“Failure is good for kids on several levels. First, experiencing failure helps your child learn to cope, a skill that’s certainly needed in the real world. It also provides him or her with the life experience needed to relate to peers in a genuine way. Being challenged also instills the need for hard work and sustained efforts, and also demonstrates that these traits are valuable even without the blue ribbon, gold star, or top score. Over time, children who have experienced defeat will build resilience and be more willing to attempt difficult tasks and activities because they are not afraid to fail. And, she says, rescuing your child sends the message that you don’t trust him or her. “Your willingness to see your child struggle communicates that you believe they are capable and that they can handle any outcome, even a negative one,” she says.
Your child takes his cues from you, so it’s important that you try to avoid any kind of deception, even a seemingly innocuous one. (Never, for instance, say something like “Let’s not tell Daddy we got candy this afternoon.”) Let your child hear you being truthful with other adults. Carol would have been better off saying, “This isn’t a good day for a playdate. I’m concerned that the boys were fighting so much last week. I think they need a break.”
Another way to promote the value of honesty: Don’t overreact if your child lies to you. Instead, help her find a way to tell the truth. When the mother of 4-year-old Janice walked into the family room one afternoon, she saw that her large potted plant had been toppled and that several branches had been snapped off. She knew right away what had happened: Once before, she had seen Janice making her Barbie dolls “climb the trees,” and she’d told her daughter at the time that the plants were off-limits. When Mom demanded an explanation, a guilty-looking Janice blamed the family dog.
Janice’s mom reacted sensibly: She interrupted her child’s story and said, “Janice, I promise I won’t yell. Think about it for a minute, and then tell me what really happened.” After a moment, the child owned up to her misdeed. As a consequence, Janice had to help clean up the mess and was not allowed to watch television that afternoon, but her mom made sure to emphasize how much she appreciated her daughter’s honesty. In doing so, she taught the child an important lesson: Even if being honest isn’t always easy or comfortable, you-and other people-always feel better if you tell the truth.
In order to help children internalize a true sense of justice, parents need to encourage them to take some action to remedy a wrong. For example, Amy’s dad might have suggested that she help Marcus rebuild his castle or that she bring him some cookies as a gesture of apology.
Saying “I’m sorry” is pretty easy for a child, and it lets her off the hook without forcing her to think. Having a child make amends in a proactive way conveys a much stronger message. If you’re aware that your child has acted badly toward someone, help him think of a way to compensate. Maybe he can give one of his trucks to a playmate whose toy he has damaged. Perhaps he could draw a picture for his sister after teasing her all day. By encouraging your child to make such gestures, you emphasize the importance of treating people fairly-an essential value that will one day help him negotiate the complicated world of peer-group relationships.
“Each one was sloppier than the last,” his mother said. “I didn’t know what to say.” A good response might have been: “Well, Jake, that drawing isn’t as carefully done as your other one. Did you try your best on that?”
Determination is a value that you can encourage from a very young age. The easiest way to do so is by avoiding excessive praise and by providing children with honest feedback, delivered in a gentle, supportive fashion.
Another powerful way to help kids develop determination is to encourage them to do things that don’t come easily-and to praise them for their initiative. If your son is shy, for instance, quietly encourage him to approach kids on the playground, even if it makes him feel nervous and scared.
The girls remembered their promises, and the next trip to the supermarket went much more smoothly. Leaving the store, the younger girl asked, “Do you feel really upset now, Mommy?” The mother assured her that she felt just fine and remarked how nice it was that nobody got into an argument.
Do these small problem-solving exercises actually help a child learn the value of consideration? You bet. Over time, even a young child sees that words or actions can make another person smile or feel better, and that when she’s kind to someone else, that person is nice to her. This feedback encourages other genuine acts of consideration.
And, of course, don’t let a day pass without expressing your affection for your child himself. Show your love in unexpected ways: Pack a note in his lunch box. Tape a heart to the bathroom mirror so he’ll see it when he brushes his teeth. Give her a hug-for no reason. Don’t allow frantic morning drop-offs or frenetic afternoon routines squeeze loving gestures out of your day.
I can practically guarantee you that the more you say “I love you” to your child, the more your child will say “I love you” back. The more hugs and kisses you give, the more your home will be filled with love and affection.
This is true in the on-screen world, but nowhere else. When every finger swipe brings about a response of colors and shapes and sounds, a child’s brain responds gleefully with the neurotransmitter dopamine, the key component in our reward system that is associated with feelings of pleasure. Dopamine hits in the brain can feel almost addictive, and when a child gets too used to an immediate stimuli response, he will learn to always prefer smartphone-style interaction—that is, immediate gratification and response—over real-world connection.