Children pick up on much more than we give them credit for. Just ask anyone who’s accidentally cursed in front of a toddler only to have the toddler repeat the word. Their minds truly are like sponges. Their ability to learn goes deeper than simply repeating curses, though, and whether or not we realize it, the lessons we teach them have the potential to shape the entire rest of their lives.
We naturally want the children we know to grow up to be happy, healthy, and successful. Getting them on that path starts with the lessons we teach them, and similarly, the lessons we don’t teach them.
Here are a few lessons to avoid teaching children:
1. All adults are trustworthy
Although we’d all love to believe that everyone in this world is good, that clearly isn’t the case. So for the safety of the children in our lives, we should be careful about who we tell them to trust. Teachers, medical professionals, and police officers are generally trustworthy, so we can teach children to go to them for help. But we should still avoid telling children to trust all adults implicitly.
2. Children shouldn’t show their emotions
It’s natural for people of all ages to show their emotions. In fact, it’s a much healthier alternative than bottling them up. But while adults typically know how to show their emotions appropriately, children still need to learn. They require extra patience, so we should avoid saying things like “just calm down” during tantrums because doing so teaches them that their emotions are wrong. Even worse, it doesn’t teach them how to handle the difficult emotions. It’s even worse when these statements are gendered, like telling a boy he “shouldn’t cry” or telling a girl she “shouldn’t be so sensitive.” Instead, a good tactic is to talk about the emotions so they don’t act them out in an unhealthy way.
3. Intelligence is measured by grades alone
Most children need to be encouraged to study hard and do their homework, and giving such encouragement is a good thing; grades are important. And it’s easy to teach kids that grades are important. But they aren’t the only important thing. After all, Einstein said “if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” If we teach children that their level of intelligence is measured solely by their grades, we aren’t teaching them that they’re allowed to be good at other things. Some kids are really good at sports or at art or music. Others have high emotional intelligence. If that’s the case, emphasizing grades alone might damage self-esteem.
4. They can get what they want whenever they want
As obvious as it is to say, we can’t always get what we want. That’s something everyone needs to learn at some point, and the younger we are when we learn that lesson, the better. It’s important to avoid teaching children that they’re supposed to be constantly spoiled by simply giving them whatever they ask for. No one can go through life thinking they’re going to get whatever they want because just isn’t how the world works.
5. You should always try to fit in with other people
Kids are often under a great deal of stress to fit in or try to be popular. Peer pressure is common as young people try to figure out their identities, and it can often seem like fitting in with everyone else is the only way to survive. But the reality is not everyone is going to like us. That’s life, and that’s okay. Being unique is a good thing because it’s what makes us all special, and that’s important in a society. Sometimes parents worry when their kid is struggling to fit in, but instead of encouraging them to do what everyone else does or like what everyone else likes, we should teach them to embrace their uniqueness.
6. Failure is the worst possible outcome
We should avoid teaching kids that not doing something well enough is the worst possible outcome. Childhood is a time of growth and learning, and children should be free to explore things they might enjoy or be good at. They shouldn’t be afraid to try things or practice skills. After all, there are things worse than failure. Keep this in mind, and be wary of how you talk about outcomes that are less than successful.
7. Laziness is always unacceptable
Excessive laziness is definitely a bad thing. But every now and then, we earn the right to be lazy. Still, sometimes parents keep their children’s schedules jam-packed with so many activities and extracurriculars that they never have time to slow down. If we teach kids that slowing down is bad, they’ll never learn to relax, and relaxation is a healthy part of life. So if you know a busy kid, be sure to avoid indicating to them that they can never have a lazy day.
8. Mistakes should be punished
Everyone makes mistakes. We spill things, we forget to do something, and so on. It happens. Most adults face no repercussions from spilling something or forgetting something, though, so we should be careful of punishing a kid for similar acts. If he or she spills something or neglects to do something intentionally, that’s a different story. But taking away privileges and toys for making small mistakes teaches kids to fear making mistakes and should be avoided.
9. White lies are acceptable
I think most parents are guilty of telling white lies to their children, and for the most part there’s no harm in it. But if the children catch on and grow accustomed to hearing those little lies, it sets a bad precedent. The children might start telling them too. And they might even start telling bigger lies after that. So even though it might start with something as little as “there’s no more ice cream,” we should be careful what we choose to tell children and why.
10. It’s okay to judge people
Sometimes it seems almost natural to gossip or pass judgments about others, especially if we’re doing so quietly or in the privacy of our own homes. But children pick up on such behaviors quickly, so it’s important to avoid it as much as possible. If we don’t, kids might become so used to talking about other people that they become bullies or generally intolerant of other people.
The things we fill a child’s mind with are important. What they learn will serve as the basis for their values and beliefs, so we have to be careful what we teach them. Furthermore, our children are the next generation of this world. They are the minds that are going to create the future, so what they learn as kids is critical.