Schools, for the most part, do an amazing job of teaching our kids vital skills like reading, writing, and arithmetic. However, there are some lessons all kids need that they’ll never get in a classroom. That’s where you come in! Read on for things to teach your kids to help them truly succeed in life.
Lessons All Kids Need But Won’t Get in a Classroom
Emma Goldman once said, “No one has yet realized the wealth of sympathy, the kindness, and generosity hidden in the soul of a child. The effort of every true education should be to unlock that treasure.”
School teachers are extraordinary educators, and they play such a vital role in our kids’ lives. But when it comes to the most important lessons of all, they are not our children’s TRUE educators.
That’s not a criticism of teachers. We shouldn’t expect them to teach our kids how to be better human beings. Encourage them, yes. Help keep them on the right path, maybe. But the real lessons all kids need MUST start at home with you. YOU are your child’s truest and most consistent educator.
So, with that in mind, let’s talk about those things to teach kids that they can’t really learn in a classroom. All of these lessons are equally important, so they’re not in any specific order.
1. The art of finding happiness
William Martin put it best when he wrote, “We all want our children to be happy. Somehow, some way today show them something that makes you happy, something you truly enjoy. Your own happiness is contagious. They learn the art from you.”
You can’t teach your kids how to be happy. That’s something they have to learn for themselves. You can, however, teach them the art of finding happiness.
Teach them that happiness comes from within and that they should never rely on someone else to provide it for them. Then, share the little things that bring you joy and encourage them to find their own “small pleasures.”
2. The importance of loving yourself
From a very young age, we teach our children how important it is to love others. But we often forget that it’s just as important to teach them to love themselves. The best way to set the groundwork for a lifetime of good self-esteem is by modeling it yourself.
Remember, our children see themselves in us. They know that they come from us, even if they don’t know the specifics right away. So when we trash-talk ourselves in front of them, we’re not only modeling bad self-love, we’re telling them to be ashamed of the parts of them that come from us.
3. The joy that comes from helping others
If we want to raise kids that change the world, we have to encourage them to actually want to help others. As Wendy Mogel explains, that often begins at home with chores. She wrote, “Helping out at home raises self-esteem: when parents insist that kids do their chores, they are letting them know that they’re not just loved, they are needed.”
When you give your child a list of chores, take the time to explain how these things help the entire family. For example, if your child dries the dishes after you wash them, explain that by helping with the after-dinner chores, everyone gets to enjoy more “fun time” before bedtime.
4. That no one has a right to demand their affection
If you’re a long-time reader, you know that I’m against forcing kids to give hugs because of the message that it sends: your body isn’t truly your own. It’s a direct contradiction to everything we tell them about “bad touches” and “stranger-danger,” and sets a bad precedent.
I’m not going to rehash that argument here. This lesson goes beyond body autonomy. It’s about teaching kids that true respect is earned (although showing respect is a bit different). That no one can force them to feel a certain way. That who they love and show that love to is entirely up to them. It’s about teaching them emotional autonomy.
5. When to speak up and when to stay silent
This is a two-part lesson. For the first part, we need to teach our kids how to know when to speak up. We want them to stand up for others, to speak out against injustice, to create a better world by being the kind of kid who says, “You can’t talk to my friend that way!” When to tell a friend a hard truth, even if it’s not something that friend wants to hear.
At the same time, we need to teach them when silence really is golden. When to be quiet and listen. When to hold their tongues. When to keep that hard truth to themselves to preserve a friend’s feelings. I wrote about post all about the art of staying silent, you can check that out for more ideas on this lesson.
6. How to forgive (even themselves)
Forgiveness isn’t something that comes naturally to us humans. I actually think we’re hardwired to hold grudges. We think that if we stay angry at someone who disappointed us, we’re not leaving ourselves open for them to disappoint us again. It’s a self-defense mechanism, plain and simple.
The thing is, everyone makes mistakes, and almost everyone deserves a second chance. I say “almost” because there are some things that can – and should- never be forgiven. For the vast majority of mistakes, though, people do deserve the opportunity to show that they’ve learned and changed.
Teach your child forgiveness not only by forgiving them for their mistakes but also by helping them learn how to forgive themselves and learn from those mistakes.
7. Knowing which “battles” to fight
As adults, we’re told to choose our battles wisely, to always ask ourselves if this (whatever “this” may be) is really the “hill you want to die on.” As a parent, your job to teach your child how to decide which battles are worth fighting and which are worth forfeiting.
Part of that means not letting them win irrational battles. Stick to your rules about healthy eating, bedtimes, and the really important stuff. The other part, though, is letting them actually win a few battles, too.
Not only does this give them the groundwork for learning the art of negotiation, but it teaches them that while some battles can be won, others are better left alone. Some hills just aren’t worthy dying on, so to speak.
8. How to find the courage to go after their dreams
Teaching our kids to go after their dreams is definitely something that can’t be done in a classroom. Yes, teachers can inspire children to dream bigger or help them find their passions. But we have to teach them how to find the courage within themselves to actually take the first steps towards those dreams.
The next time your child comes to you with a big dream that, to your adult ears, sounds totally impossible, resist the urge to bring them back down to reality. Instead, ask them how they would make that dream come true. Encourage them to work out a solution to the “impossibility” of it all. In other words, don’t just tell them that they can’t fly. Instead, ask them how they would make it so we could!
9. How to be alone
I think one of the most important lessons all kids need that they can definitely NOT learn in the classroom is how to be alone and actually like it. How to find solace in their own company, so to speak. I’m not saying we should teach them to become recluses who live out in the middle of nowhere and never interact with other human beings.
But we do need to encourage them to find joy in solitude. Make “alone time” a priority in your family. Set aside an evening each week, perhaps, where everyone does their own thing and pursues their own passions.
10. How to be themselves in a world that will always tell them to be someone else
One of my favorite parenting quotes (not sure who said it) goes, “Try to see your child as a seed that came in a packet without a label. Your job is to provide the right environment and nutrients and to pull the weeds. You can’t decide what kind of flower you’ll get or in which season it will bloom.”
While that quote is more like advice to us as parents, it also sets the groundwork for this lesson. After all, we have to accept that our children are their own people and not just extensions of us before we can teach them to accept themselves.
Once we learn that lesson, we can pass it on to our children by encouraging them to cast aside society’s expectations and pressures and just revel in the wonder of their own uniqueness.
Of course, this is far from a complete list of things to teach your kids, but I didn’t want to just rehash every other list you’ve already read before.
I mean, you already know that you should teach your kids patience, compassion, kindness, and empathy. You also know that it’s important to teach them that family is everything, or that hard work pays off, or that they can’t always get what they want. I wanted to give you some new things to think about and lessons to teach. I hope I succeeded!
I’ll leave you with this: as Charles Raison said in the quote way back at the beginning, “One generation full of deeply loving parents, would change the brain of the next generation and with that, the world.” As long as we focus on putting love into every lesson that we teach our kids, I think we’ll raise a generation that truly does go on to change the world.