Regular communication between parents and kids is not only the key to manners, but it’s also important for their safety and emotional health.
Over my many years of working as a school social worker and my many years as a parent, I have come up with a list of 10 things that all parents really need to talk about with their kids.
10 Things Parents Really Need to Talk about with Their Kids
Yes, there are probably more than 10 conversations you need to have with your child over the course of their lifetime, but these are the biggies. Some of these topics will be a one-time thing, but many of them should be more on-going. Here they are, in no particular order:
1. Believe in Yourself
Self-confidence might be the most important factor in life success and overall happiness. And no, I am not talking about the overconfident trash-talking kid (or coworker!) that we all know and love.
Kids need to be able to recognize their talents and positive qualities. They need your help to discover these things. Take the time to tell them how proud you are. Point out their positive qualities. Tell them that you believe in them. This will help them to explore, take risks, and find success.
2. Appreciate What You Have
Whether you are super wealthy or barely getting by, it is important to remind your kids to be grateful for what they have.
My husband does a great job of pointing out the little things to our kids all the time. Warm pajamas, healthy food, bikes, great teachers, helpful neighbors, the ability to walk: all of these things are so easy to take for granted. Help your kids notice the little things. Having an attitude of gratitude is contagious and makes you appreciate the little things.
3. Be Nice
While this may sound overly simple, it’s a great way to live.
I love wearing my “be nice” shirt. We even have a “be nice” sign on our wall at home. It matters how you treat others. Be nice to your siblings, be nice to your friends, and be nice to your parents. If you are nice to others, they will be nice to you. How…nice!
4. Be Safe
Regardless of your stance on guns, as soon as your kids start going to other people’s houses, you need to talk to them about gun safety.
Lots of people have guns in their homes and lots of people do not have them locked up. It is hard for children to understand how dangerous guns are. Tell them (more than once!) what they should do if one of their friends wants to show them a gun. Go through different “what if?” situations.
Teach them from a young age to listen to that little voice in their head. Tell them, “if something is telling you this doesn’t seem right, listen.” The same is true for alcohol, cigarettes, and a myriad of other scary and dangerous things. It is important that your kids know what is acceptable and what is not and that you will always be proud of them for doing the right thing. Make sure kids know your phone number and address!
5. Your Body Belongs to You
This one really ties in with the previous message about safety. While there are some discussions in elementary school classrooms about personal safety and good touch/bad touch, it’s not enough. Parents need to talk to kids about this, too.
Both boys and girls need to understand that their bodies are private and belong to them. There is a very small group of people who should be allowed to see children naked.
Funny story: I forgot to mention to my kids that their pediatrician is someone who is on “the list” of approved people. My feisty little daughter just about kicked the poor doctor where it counts during her last well-child visit when he tried to pull her pants down a little bit to feel her belly. Oops!
6. Winning is not that Important
We live in a competitive society. And let’s be honest, everyone likes to win more than they like to lose.
But winning isn’t the only point of competition. It breaks my heart to see kids in my son’s little league division (ages 9 and 10) already smashing bats on the ground, chucking gloves, and crying over a strikeout or a loss. Allow your kids to lose at games and competitions (yes, I know that sounds mean) and teach them how to be a good sport. Praise hard work, effort, and not throwing a fit when they lose. Oh, and be a good example yourself!
7. Stand up for What You Know is Right
Teach your child to listen to that little voice in his or her head that tells them whether something is a good idea. And teach them to stick up for others who are being mistreated.
One of my proudest mom moments was when my 5-year-old daughter saw some kids being mean to her friend at the park and she marched right over to them, said, “You leave my friend alone!” and took her friend over to another part of the playground. Do the right thing. Always.
8. Choose Good Friends
This is a tough one. Once your kids enter elementary school, they start to navigate the surprisingly tricky social world of childhood friendships.
I encourage my kids to have a lot of different friends. While having a best friend sounds like a great idea, it’s really not when kids are young. Being completely wrapped up in one individual isn’t very healthy. If your child has a friend who they are getting into trouble with, try to get them to understand how that might not be good for them. The more you can talk your kids through those situations (rather than telling them who they should and should not be friends with), the better off they will be in the long run (hopefully!).
9. Be Creative, Go Outside, Get Dirty
It saddens me to hear how many hours kids spend in front of screens. Video games have become a full-time job for so many.
While I enjoy playing the Wii as much as anyone (though my husband said I am about to be cut off because of my language when I play Mario Kart!), have limits. Take a family walk or a bike ride. Have a picnic at the park. Let your kids play in the mud. Plant a garden. Go catch frogs. Finger paint. You get the idea. Again, you have to set a good example for this.
10. Do What You Can to Make Things Better in the World
While you shouldn’t expect your kids to be raising thousands of dollars for charity or volunteering every weekend, it’s never too early to plant the seed of doing good in the world.
If you give your kids allowance, have them save part of it in a giving jar. Offer to help a neighbor pull weeds. Pay it forward at the drive-thru. Stop to help someone who has dropped something. Again, when your kids see you doing good for others, they will do the same.