9 Things to Tell Your Kids

4 August, 2011 | | 6 Comments

OK, as promised, a short list of things from the Big Ugly Man Doll that I think you’d do well to tell your kids, teen-aged or not.  In no particular order. 

  1. Good job.  Not just for the big things, like getting an A or a goal or a win, but for the small things.  They’re smarter than you think, and they damn well know when they did one of the big things well – not that you shouldn’t make much of it, but remember to make as much of the little everyday things.  Parenting is the ultimate B.F. Skinner experiment.  Every word you say and every action you take will help to modify your kids’ behavior, however slightly.  When you call out something that they did well, that they did correctly, that they did the way you want them to, mention it.  It’s not just positive reinforcement for the action, it reminds them that someone’s watching.
  2. I love you.  Say it early, often, and without embellishment.  They’ll figure out just what you mean by it, and what it means, by your actions.  Try to make sure your actions reflect what you want “I love you” to mean.
  3. It’s OK to be the best.  Our society rewards conformity, and once they leave your house, they will learn quickly that “sit down and shut up” is often a more valuable lesson than “tell me what you know.”  It’s frightening to stand out in the crowd.  Let them know that if they decide to go for it – school play, team, league, what have you, if they decide that maybe they will try their hand at something competitive, something that would set them apart from their crowd – let them know that you’ve got their back.  Often they just need to know that it’s OK to try, and even that it’s OK to try hard.  Give them permission to succeed. 
  4. You screwed up on that one.  They know it anyway.  If they’ve really screwed the pooch, don’t mince words – you risk confusing the message.  Give them a chance to learn from the mistake; if this is a serial screw up, ask them about the wider issue causing them to fail on the task at hand.  This is part of your job as a parent, and like any job the conversation will be more constructive if you stay professional. 
  5. I apologize.  When you need to say it, say it to them directly.  Being sorry, and even saying so, is passive and keeps the focus on you (you’re sorry).  An apology is a noun, given when appropriate.  I’ll give you a short informative example. 
    I came home a few years ago to find something broken; don’t remember what, doesn’t matter.  It had been up high enough that only the Human Tape Recorder could have reasonably reached it; it wasn’t the kind of thing the cats would get into, and the Reigning Queen of Pink was a baby. 

    I confronted the HTR with the broken thing, and asked her what happened.  “I don’t know.”  I reminded her that her siblings were unlikely to have interested themselves in it and even less likely to have been able to reach it, and asked her again what happened.  “I don’t know, maybe my brother broke it, I don’t know.”  She was clearly squirming, and I could tell I might be close to uncovering the mystery if I only applied a little more pressure.

    “I’m going to go downstairs and ask your brother about this. Now, we both know that with his autism, he doesn’t know how to lie, and he will tell me exactly what happened to this thing.  Now, before I go talk to him, is there ANYTHING you’d like to tell me?”

    The word “no” came out in a tiny squeak, and I shook my head and walked downstairs.  I held whatever it was up for Number One Son to see, and asked him what happened.  “Oh, yeah, I broke that, Daddy.  Sorry about that.”  (For the record, he has since learned the art of Lying For The Sake Of Self Preservation.  While it complicates situations like the above, we’re still oddly proud – though we don’t tell him that.)

    And I walked back upstairs, told the HTR what he’d told me, and took my lumps.  “I apologize for doubting you.”  Nothing else would have sufficed.
  6. Work on your situational awareness.  I don’t know about yours, but my kids are poster children for the experiment with the gorilla walking in front of the things you’re trying to count.  After 60 seconds, the subject is asked how many times the event they were tracking happened, and then about the guy in the ape suit who walked across their field of vision.  Something like half of them said, “What ape suit?”  If you don’t notice a fair bit of your surroundings, you won’t see safety hazards and you probably shouldn’t drive yet. 
  7. To err is human.  Period, full stop.  We don’t need to get into divinity, forgiveness, any of that.  Our ability to make mistakes, recognize them as such, and learn from them is a large part of what separates us from the lower animals.  If you’ve stopped making mistakes, you’ve stopped learning.  (If you keep making the same ones time after time, you’re probably crazy.)  Remind them not to stress over failures any more than they crow over successes – both are lessons. 
  8. People are crazy, and life’s not fair.  They will run into people who are mean, people who are irrational, and there won’t be a damn thing they can do about it.  Sometimes, the fates deal you a rotten hand.  Get over it and move on. 
  9. Plan for the long term.  Yes, everyone’s in a hurry, and yes, everyone’s late and running behind and playing catchup, in grade school, in high school, in college.   Don’t worry about it too much; make your goals and work toward them.  Use sunscreen and pay off your credit cards every month.  Trust me on these. 

So, I’m sure I’ve missed a half dozen things that I ought to tell them.  Readers, what else?  What do you or would you tell yours that should be on this list?  What did you hear growing up that stayed with you?

  1. JEN says:

    Its not just about what you tell them…
    Hug them. At least once a day and keep on hugging until your child disengages. A child will let go when they think the hug is done. You may be sitting there thinking “geez, come on already, i have dishes/laundry/yardwork to do” but showing your kid that they are your priority only takes about 5 minutes but will last them a lifetime.

  2. Sara says:

    to add to Jenn – and when they’re surly teenagers and recoil at hugs within the first nanosecond, hug them anyway, and/or kiss them on their head, and/or pat their back. Everyone needs a daily dose of touch…

  3. Queued says:

    Every now and then, sucker punch them.

    It keeps them on their toes and prepares them for later in life.

    Like that time you told me I wasn’t as good looking as David Cassidy. I still wonder why you brought that up.

  4. Big Ugly Man Doll says:

    @Queued: Why *I* brought it up? You were the one sending me the “Official Sean Cassidy Scrapbook” – I still have it. Hey, do you need that back?

  5. Michelle Meeh says:

    very true

  6. 15 Things NOT to tell your kids... | Big Ugly Man Doll says:

    […] After this, it would be disingenuous of me not to post my own set of Big Ugly Truths to say to your kids.  Look for that post this week. […]

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