There are three things every kid needs.
I’ll assume you know the obvious ones. (Clothes, food, a place to sleep, the occasional bath.) But if we want our kids to grow up to be more than just clean and groomed, there are less obvious things they need–the things they need to help them grow up to be nice, genuine, and responsible people. Those are the ones we as parents need to spend more time focusing on. Here are three things I think every kid needs:
Kids Need a Job to Do. Nothing will instill a work ethic better in your child than earning money. Allowances are not a good idea. You don’t get paid just for existing, and neither should a child. Just getting something because you were born creates an attitude of entitlement: “I deserve this.” Sorry, Junior, but that’s not the way the world works, and an allowance gives your kids a false expectation of what things will be like when they grow up. So, once you feel your kids are ready to have some pocket change, have them earn it. Whatever the age, there is an appropriate job for them to do in your family. Washing clothes, doing dishes, feeding pets, making beds, dusting. Menial jobs are great for kids, not because they are your servants (even though they may say this while cleaning up dog poop in the backyard), but because it helps them realize there is value in any kind of work. Make chore lists, have them keep track of the tasks they have completed. At the end of the week, pay them for their work. And if they don’t work, don’t pay them. If they didn’t complete everything you asked them to do, don’t give them their full agreed upon amount. If they complain, remind them that if you don’t do your job each week, you don’t get paid, either. It’s a great way to prepare them for future employment (and their future employers will thank you). It also helps them grow as responsible, contributing members of your family. Really surprise them by paying them for unexpected things: a piece of artwork, climbing a tree to pick cherries, or beating you at your family’s favorite board game. This helps them learn that they can also get paid for things they enjoy, things that are fun, or artistic–great lessons before they choose a career.
Kids Need Something to Celebrate. One of the joys of the many random holidays we have throughout the year is that kids love them. They love St. Patrick’s Day, Valentine’s Day, Groundhog Day, and all the rest. What has happened, though, thanks to Pinterest, is that every parent believes they have to do some kind of huge extravagant thing every holiday. When we were kids, our moms didn’t have the internet to teach them that their kids’ birthdays or school holidays had to be super creative examples of awesomeness. They used an article out of Good Housekeeping or Better Homes and Gardens and kind of winged it. Were our birthdays pretty and perfectly themed? No. Party stores didn’t exist, and you couldn’t fill an entire house with matching plates, cups, hats, games, and the rest. We still had a great time, we still had fun. Because kids don’t care how much it cost or how much time you spent being creative. That’s your thing. That’s your attempt to prove something to the other Pinterest parents and the last birthday party your child went to. To misquote Cindi Lauper: “Kids just want to have fun.” The Valentines from the grocery store are perfect acceptable. The Betty Crocker cake is fine. Adding green food coloring to the milk on St. Patrick’s Day is a great start to the morning. Celebrating doesn’t need to be expensive. Don’t try to be Pinterest perfect. Just doing something fun every once in awhile. Celebrate Arbor Day by planting a tree, Mother’s Day with flowers or homemade cards. So don’t break the bank, don’t sweat it, but celebrate the dumb holidays, even in small ways. It’s always “National ________ Day.” Get the free ice cream on National Ice Cream Cone Day. Eat Hot Dogs on National Hot Dog Day. Go to a National Park during National Park Week. Celebrate May the Fourth with Star Wars or the first game of whatever your family’s favorite sport is. Create reasons to celebrate or have a party for no reason. What your kids will appreciate and remember is that you did something to break the routine and give them a reason to celebrate!
Kids Need to Say Thank You. Gratitude is defined as a “feeling or attitude in acknowledgment of a benefit that one has received or will receive.” But when was the last time you actually saw someone show gratitude? Sure, we celebrate Thanksgiving every November, but how often do we pause to say thank you to those around us? Not often, which teaches kids to think that they deserve everything. Kids already think that, because society, television, the internet all work together to create an attitude of entitlement. Kids think they deserve that stuff you bought them, that vacation you took them on, and maybe that’s because that’s your attitude, too. But we don’t. Nothing we have or get to do is something that is due us. We are blessed to have any good thing in our lives. Teaching your kids to say thank you, for presents, for dinner, for help, for anything helps them learn to be grateful. I like to stop and say thank you to my children’s teachers, just for putting up with them. At a restaurant, my kids have to look the server in the eye and say thank you when their food is delivered. When another member of the family helps them with something, they have to stop, pause, and say thanks. It’s good to even make lists once in awhile of all the things you are grateful for–that attitude of gratitude starts with you, after all. When you think of all that you have to be thankful for, you’ll be more likely to say thank you–and your kids will see that in you, too. When I say thank you, I’m making a point: what I am receiving is undeserved, I understand I don’t deserve it, and I am grateful for what I have been given.
Kids need jobs. They need fun. And they need to say thanks. Help them with these three things, and not only will they grow up well-groomed and well-fed, they’ll be genuinely nice people. And that’s something the world needs.
Next week, I’ll share three things every parent needs.