We pass on our traditions, values, and life lessons to our children. Sometimes, these beliefs are instilled in our offspring without us even noticing. When we say “please” and “thank you”. When we hold the door for people and refer to adults as Mr. or Mrs. These are all signs of respect, but for many of us, they come as second nature.

Our kids are always watching. Learning. Internalizing. And this is how they are conditioned to act. But what about other, larger life lessons that can’t be taught purely through repetition of observed behaviors? How do we teach our children some of life’s fundamental lessons?

Sometimes You Lose—& Winning Isn’t Everything

No one likes to lose. Even as adults, it can be a real bummer. Whether it’s losing as part of a sports team, missing out on that big promotion, or losing money, it’s a difficult thing to handle. And this is especially true for kids. When they’re just beginning to understand the concept of teamwork and sportsmanlike conduct, it’s also important to teach them that winning isn’t everything.

Some of the most important elements of any healthy competition is trying your best, following the rules, and showing respect for all those involved. Of course, your child will be disappointed if they lose, but try placing focus on the other important elements of the game. Did they score more goals this season than last? Did their skills improve? Are they running faster than before? And how about when the game was over—did they congratulate the other team? Or wish them good luck prior to the game? All of these things are equally, if not more, important than actually winning.

Work Ethic

It’s never too soon to teach your child about work ethic. Whether it’s helping with chores around the house or going out into the neighborhood to help shovel snow or rake leaves, working hard for what you want is an invaluable life lesson. But understanding work ethic doesn’t end there. Work ethic means taking pride in the job you do.

That means if your child decides to shovel the neighbors’ walkway or make their bed, they should take pride in the finished product. It’s important to teach them not to rush through the task and to give it their all. Once your child gets a little older, you can start going over broader concepts such as the importance of being punctual, being reliable, and responsibility.

Be Humble

There is a fine line between being confident and being cocky. It’s a difficult balance to teach kids, especially when we speak so highly about being confident and believing in yourself. We encourage our children to have high self-esteem, but it’s also important to teach humility and to be humble at the same time.

A great way to achieve this is to remind your child that they should be proud of their accomplishments. They can celebrate on the inside, and outwardly, but to do so in a respectful way. Encourage your child not to brag or taunt anyone over their victories. Winning something doesn’t mean you are better than anyone else. It simply means you tried your best and it paid off. Humility in life goes a long way.

Honestly Truly is the Best Policy

Trust is one of those things that once broken, it’s very difficult to get back. I always tell my son that no matter what he’s done, the best thing he can do next is to simply tell me the truth. A child’s natural reaction when they’ve done something wrong is to lie about it. They don’t want to get in trouble or disappoint you. But the problem is, once a child lies, you’ll have a hard time believing them from that point forward. If they can lie once and convince you they’re being honest, how will you ever know how to trust them again?

A good way to encourage your child to be honest is to control your reaction. If they take the first step and come to you with the truth, no matter how upset you are, your reaction needs to be an appreciation for them being honest. It takes a lot for a kid not to lie in order to avoid punishment. But if you react poorly by yelling, screaming, or overreacting to your child’s honesty, you can almost guarantee that it’ll be the last time they tell you the truth. Your child is likely thinking, why tell the truth if my parent is just going to yell at me? I might as well just lie. This is the last thing you want! Once your child fears telling you the truth, they’ll avoid doing it at all costs.

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Everything Is a Lesson in Disguise

Another hard lesson we all learn at one point or another is that we can take something positive from every experience we have. Even the most negative ones. This may be a hard concept for your child to grasp, but you can help!

If your child gets hurt, for example, it’s a tough lesson in being more careful or cautious. Moving to another town or school is the opportunity to make new friends and get a fresh start. It’s sometimes difficult for children to see the positive in negative situations, but as parents, it’s our job it point out all those amazing and valuable lessons. Has your child ever eaten so much they’ve given themselves a stomach ache? That’s the perfect lesson to not overindulge the next time. If your child stays up past their bedtime, that sleepy feeling the next morning is another lesson learned about why bedtimes are important. Help take a potentially negative experience and acknowledge the positivity in it.

Your Parent’s Can’t Always Save You

Of course, as parents, it’s our job to help our children when they’re in need. This is especially true when they are younger. We are there to hold our child’s hand when they first start to walk. We feed them, clothe them, and help them tie their shoes. But at some point in time, the help must turn to guidance. If you continue to do everything for your child, they’ll never learn how to take care of themselves. Not only that but children whose parents “bail them out” all the time don’t always have a good grasp on the consequences of their actions.

For small children, this could mean remembering to do and hand in their homework or take care of the classroom’s iPad over the weekend. You can remind them of their responsibilities but you can’t always do things for them. Children must fail to learn from their mistakes. When your child gets older, if they blow all their money on something and you offer them money until payday, they won’t learn that they need to wait until to buy those new sneakers or go to the movies. Consequences are the only way a child learns from their mistakes.

Lead By Example

Not every lesson needs to be set in black and white. You don’t need to sit down and outline every lesson and how you’re going to achieve it. The best way to encourage your child to make the right choices, be kind, and take pride in themselves and their accomplishments is to show them how it’s done. Keep a positive attitude and remember that your child is always watching. Act the way you want them to act and you’ll be surprised how much they absorb.

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