Tuesday, July 2, 2013

10 Things that you Should Teach your Children

First teach him how to be a good passenger  :)

I rarely speak of my family in this forum, but the people who know me best know that being a father and a husband are the only things at which I can't bear to fail. I struggle every day at how to do it properly.
How do I respond to his every concern, his every success, his every failure, his troubles and successes, his every pain and his every joy and know that I am doing it right until he is grown and it is too late?

I can't possibly think of any way this would impact him later in life....

I decided to do this blog entry because of the number of well intentioned posts in the blogosphere that are religiocentric and having noticed the decided lack of any humanist or secular entries. Don't get me wrong, there are a number of very enlightening posts and some very good parenting ideas being tossed around out there, I just felt that there was nothing addressing some of the intellectual issues that secular parents might face in child rearing. I don't claim to be an expert, but some things I feel like I have done very well and have something of value to pass on to other parents, in some I defer to those who have demonstrated success in their particular area of parenting strength. (shout out to the Bitchin Atheist for her take on how to develop an open and sharing relationship with your children). So there will be no "teach them to pray" or "show them the beauty of a life in Jesus" or even any "Teach them to make their own decisions about God" (because if you teach them to be skeptical they'll make that decision anyway). Only good 'ol fashioned parenting.

In any case, on with the list.

Everything is Funny

Ok, not fake mustaches.... they are serious business.

Teaching your child that it is ok to laugh at themselves and in awkward situations gives them a coping mechanism that is invaluable. Nothing heals like laughter... and when you are not ready to heal... nothing distracts like it either. It can lift you up in dark times, it can carry you through confusing times and the sound of your own laughter can show you that it just isn't all that bad. My mother used to say "Everything is funny", and I come to understand more and more each day what she meant. She meant that nothing counteracts the pain and difficulties that we run into more than laughter, nothing helps you cope, and nothing but nothing can keep a family together like laughter. Even the terrible things. We all know that they are not funny, but if we let our humour come out, they can seem a little less debilitating.

Question Everything

Teach your children to ask the questions "Why?" and "How do you know that?". Let them know that it is OK to disagree as long as they have evidence or good reason to do so. Show them how to keep an open mind in case they are wrong. It is this demand for evidence that will inform their beliefs when they are older and keep them safe from bad and harmful ones. Teach them that if someone says that they know everything or that they "know for a fact" that they are right... with no real facts to support it, that is a fancy way of saying they are lying. I am not saying that we should ruin the magic of childhood if they ask about Santa or the Easter Bunny, but don't lie if they figure it out.

Dear God WHY??? We ask the same question kids

Teach them to Respect People (but not beliefs)

Tell them that everyone deserves respect until they show you that they do not. Beliefs only deserve the respect that their validity affords them. Every belief must be based on falsified evidence for it, and that includes their own. Everyone has the right to an opinion, but remember that having the right to an opinion is no guarantee that it is a good one. If a belief can be shown to be worth respecting then respect it, if not then recognize it for the nonsense that it is. Nothing is a good cover for bad beliefs, not upbringing, not religion, and certainly not "the right to an opinion". (let's be clear that I am not advocating your children calling people on nonsense all the time either, just to recognize it. Civility has it's place after all)

When People Show you who they are... Believe them

Teach them that people will very often show you who they really are, and the excuse "they are nice sometimes" just doesn't cut it.  Forgiveness is the key to a happy life, but remembering who people are will save you a lot of time forgiving people who will hurt you over and over again.

Science is Important

Do not allow your household to be a science free zone. The universe is amazing, and they deserve to be fascinated by it too.

Reading is Life

Show them by example how important reading is. Not just comic books, but classics. Let them choose their books but always talk about them over the dinner table. Ask them what they liked about theirs and tell them what you like about your own. It will expose them to new ideas and not only will it expand their vocabulary but it will expand their world as well.

Teach them about hard work

Put them in situations where you can show them how it feels to be successful when you have worked hard for something. It pays off for them to know that the best things are those things that they wanted so bad they worked hard to get it. Give them an example to follow in order to get there.

Teach him the Iron of Words 

Teach them that their words are the only thing that they truly own and that no one can take from them. They define and express who we are... use them wisely and honestly.

Politeness Matters (be kind)

Pleases and thank yous matter. Civility counts. Do I really have to explain this?


Talk to them about failures and sadness

Talk to your kids. I mean TALK to them. Tell them when you are upset and why. Tell them when you fail and how it makes you feel. Tell them how you hope to fix things and ask for their opinions about how you can make things right too. Lean on them emotionally without putting pressure on them and they will return the favour when you ask the same questions of them. I can't tell you how important this is. There are so many pressures that we all face as we hit the teenage years and beyond and without this they will not come to you for help. They need to feel like the emotional support is a two way street and that you rely on them as much as they rely on you. This is the only way to achieve the trust that will be needed for them to tell you when things get really difficult for them. (Thanks Char for showing me how to do this!)

Winning DOES Matter (but it is Failure that teaches us)

Teach them how to compete. Not how to participate. Don't steal from them the joy of a hard fought win, nor the lessons of a hard taken defeat.

It's almost never about you

Tell them that when people hurt them, that it is rarely about them. It is about the person that hurt them. It is them expressing something about themselves more than about your children. Let them see that that there are other things being said behind the scenes and between the lines. It will make hard times just a bit easier if they don't feel the weight of the world when things go bad.

Be Positive

Don't fill their heads with worries and insecurities by being negative about them or you. They will copy your reactions to the things that you face. Be careful what example you give them to emulate.

Sex is not a big deal

This is another important one. Say it with me....


Do NOT make your children feel like sex is something to be ashamed of. Or that it is something to be talked about in hushed tones. Or that they need their eyes shielded if a boob is exposed on screen. No one was ever hurt by a boob, but many many people are damaged by sexual guilt.

She just crushed those.. umm.... with her.... ok... boobs SOMETIMES hurt  things.

These last two things are not really things that you teach your children directly, but they will DEFINITELY inform their beliefs and relationships later in life;

Remember that your relationship with your spouse has GOT to come first.

Their future depends on this. If you forget everything else on this page, please remember this. Your marriage is the most important thing in their life. This is where they will learn how to love, and how to live. This is where they will learn how to treat women, and how to be treated by men. This is the first example that they WILL emulate and your marriage and how you love your spouse is what you are preparing your children for when they grow up. If that scares you... then fix it! I am not saying that you should stay in a relationship solely for your kids, quite the opposite. If your relationship is toxic then the worst thing that you can do for your kids is to stay in it. They will learn from your example and the best that you can hope for is to teach them apathy for their spouse. Don't do this to them. Fix your relationship or get out and find one that will provide your children (and you) with what they need.

EVERYTHING is a big deal

No matter what the age of your child, remember this one thing every single time they ask you to look at the cool thing they made with a stick, or to listen to a sports story, or to hear this new, long and awful joke they just made up that even though it isn't important to you, it is their world and they want to share it with you. Don't rob yourself of that and don't teach your kids that what they think is important is not, because what you are really teaching them is that THEY are not.

Ok, so that was 14... but who's counting?

MOM-EDIT ALERT!!!! She's read it and using her mom power to add two more!

I've read this... and YOU'RE WRONG!

"Spelling counts. Smart people will think you're like them if you can, and not-so-smart people will think you're like them if you can't. They'll both be right. 
Stay Curious, you'll never be bored"

PS- Anything else I've left out? Share it with everyone in the comments!


  1. All excellent, EXCELLENT points. Only additional thing that pops to mind is to teach your children to advocate for themselves! You kind of touched on that as far as relationships, but it needs to go further as far as school, work, etc. If they are the subject of an injustice or see an injustice, they need to have the tools they need to stand up for themselves...or whoever. And the only way to teach them that is to stand up and be their advocate as they grow. There is certainly something to be said for allowing your child to fight their own battles...but how can they do that if they've never seen anyone fight one for them? And how else will they learn that they're worth fighting for?

    Great post, Jason.

  2. There is certainly something to be said for allowing your child to fight their own battles...but how can they do that if they've never seen anyone fight one for them? And how else will they learn that they're worth fightin

    1. Not sure to which one you are referring, but you teach them how to question and speak up for themselves. You do this through your disciplinary system at home. They will learn how to carry this on by the example that you teach them. If you fight their battles for them, they learn dependance, not how to do it themselves.They need to know the words and have the courage to defend themselves respectfully and know that when they do, you are behind them.