Every adult who has children knows it is a challenging experience and extremely rewarding, especially when the children grow to be responsible, independent, caring, productive adults and parents in their own right. After helping raise my own children, being a professional martial arts instructor since 1979, teaching thousands of children and helping other parents raise their children (so they tell me), here are 10 keys I feel are important to raising children successfully.
Kids need a leader, someone who is strong, responsible, caring and committed to their highest and best good. What children do not need is to be the parent to their parents. Children do not need to be buddies, pals or best friends with their parents until they, the children, are adults. Children are children. They need leaders to lead, guide and direct them through their early life. Those leaders are the parents who need to take a front row in raising their kids. For children to be successful in life, they need a strong parental foundation, one that puts them before their parent’s careers, activities, relationships and jobs. Children should never be thought of as appendages to a parent’s life. Until the children are of legal age, the children are the parent’s life. When this commitment is given to children, it is a boon to their early development and later success as responsible and independent adults.
Children need structure. They need foundational guidelines. They need to know what they can do and what they cannot do. They need to know that if they go outside the boundaries of the structure set for them there will be consequences. If they stay within the boundaries, everything is copacetic.
Life and society run by laws and rules-ethical, moral, social, familial, national and spiritual. This is the way life is. When laws and rules are not established early on, children learn not to respect them because they were never taught to respect or live by them in the first place. They therefore run the risk of becoming lawless, defiant and, potentially, trouble-strewn adults. Therefore, the home, and the karate studio in my personal case, should exhibit definite rules to create the order needed for a foundational structure in which everyone thrives, succeeds and learns how to manage the boundaries of life in all its aspects.
3. Cause and Consequence
Keeping with the structural aspects of children’s lives, they must be made to understand that every cause has a consequence (effect), that every action has a reaction, and that a wise person always looks to the consequences of his actions before he commits them. Cause and effect is a law of life. It’s not just a nice thought. No one escapes the law of cause and effect, and when children are not raised with an understanding of this very basic and critical law of life they are headed into a brick wall at high speed. Nothing good will ever come about in a person’s life if, as children, they are not taught that every cause has a consequence. Good actions create good consequences; bad actions create bad consequences. A life of causes without consequences is an illusion and harbinger of hardships and problems to come.
Discipline is the crux of success. A garden that is not regularly tended to, weeded, watered, fertilized, trimmed and cut grows into an unruly and out of control mess of weeds, vines, bushes, trees and grass. There can be life without discipline but it will not be a good life any more than a garden left unattended will remain beautiful. When babies are born they represent life in its purest, most beautiful and innocent form. To keep it that way, children must be taught to be disciplined, to think before they act, to exercise self-control and judgment. An undisciplined horse, for example, is a dangerous animal, but when trained to be calm, disciplined and controlled it can be an excellent help, resource, companion and friend. Undisciplined children run the risk of growing to be not just like unruly gardens but also like wild horses-out of control and extremely dangerous to themselves and others. A simple glance at the lives of many celebrities reveals the human wreckage thrown upon the rocks of an undisciplined life.
One of the most fundamental principles of a successful life is this: Our life; our responsibility. By the same token, as children are being raised it is important that parents continue to reinforce the following phrase in their young minds so that by the time they are adults it will become manifest: It’s your life; it’s your responsibility.
My children will forever be welcome in my home, as I’m sure your children will be in yours. This is how loving families operate. This said, in order to insure the children have successful lives they must be functionally aware that their life is their responsibility and they need to grow into that concept. What happens when the parents are no longer around? What happens when they die? If children are void on their responsibility for their own life, what then? It is parental love that engenders self-responsibility in children. To test this, simply ask yourself as a parent, “What if my children were stranded on a desert island by themselves? Could they survive? Would they be strong enough? Resilient enough? Resourceful enough? Balanced enough? If the children were raised with the understanding that It’s your life; it’s your responsibility, they would at least have a fighting chance of survival. However, if they were looking to someone or something else to take care of them, the prospect of their survival would be dubious at best.
Too many children are not being taught this basic life principle of taking personal responsibility. This is obvious because there are too many adults who do not understand it or live by it. Regardless of what anyone wants to believe, no one is responsible for us but us. It is not the government’s responsibility to take care of us. It is not the responsibility of our friends, neighbors, associates, even family once we become of age to take care of us. It is solely our responsibility. Raising children to live by this principle is critical to their well-being and success in life.
6. High Marks
For children to have a sound sense of themselves they must be made to strive for high marks, not mediocre or low marks. Therefore, parents should set the bar high for their kids. Give them something to strive for and attain. In the process they will develop habits, principles and a mindset that will serve them well throughout their entire life. In martial arts, we teach, The process is the product. Reaching a Black Belt level is noteworthy, but just because a person does not reach such an esteemed level does not mean the lessons learned along the way were wasted or of no use. Therefore, parents need to set the bar high so their children can learn to aim high and accomplish their goals and in the process generate a sense of confidence gained through competence.
7. Sense of Values
What has happened to individuals having a sense of values in their lives? It seems our society is more concerned with its indulgences, pleasures and gratifications than its set of values. To me as a father, grandfather, teacher and citizen, this is extremely sad. To live only to indulge, play and gratify oneself can only result in an empty, non-substantive life. Great people throughout history have lived by a sense of values not gratifications. As the great Dr. Albert Einstein admonished: The goal is to raise the spiritual values of society, and Try not to become a man of success but rather to become a man of value.
Values include but are not limited to: humility, discipline, self-control, patience, kindness, generosity, thoughtfulness, consideration, respect, balance, honesty, integrity, a strong work ethic and doing the right thing rather than the profitable thing. As American intellectual, writer, reporter, political commentator and Harvard graduate Walter Lippman stated in his Preface to Morals (1929): He has honor if he holds himself to an ideal of conduct though it is inconvenient, unprofitable, or dangerous to do so. Where is this value today? Something to think about and certainly important for children to know about.
8. Right Rewards
Giving right rewards at the right time for the right reason is important in raising children. My message to my own children and students was and is this: We do the right thing because it is the right thing to do, not because there is a reward attached to it. Doing the right thing is its own reward. When children learn this simple lesson of life, they do things out of principle not out of expectation of some material reward. The constant giving of only material rewards such as money, candy, clothes or cars does nothing to further our children’s character, which is the foundation of their lives. Occasionally, external rewards are effective, but doing the right thing because it is the right thing to do is the right thing to do when raising children.
9. Appropriate Praise
Praise is a necessary act when raising children. However, praise should be given when appropriate and that means when the child performs well, meets a high mark, displays excellent character, etc. Praising a child “just because” gives him a false sense of himself. Telling a child he or she is great when they’ve behaved badly is doing them a great disservice. Certainly, the word “great” is overused in today’s society. Telling someone he’s great when he’s not lowers the bar and keeps lowering it until there is no bar to reach up to, only to stoop to. The result is that children and society keep degrading and descending, not upgrading and ascending.
Having respect for oneself and others is critical to a well-functioning life. Yet, it is sorely lacking today. For example, adults should never allow children to address them as “dude” or “buddy” or “hey you.” How will such a child fair in the real world when he applies for a job and addresses the boss as “dude?” What has happened to children referring to an adult woman as Mrs., Ms., Miss, Ma’am or an adult male as Mr. or Sir? I personally find it interesting that many young people today simply don’t know how to address an adult.
By virtue of the fact that adults have preceded children in age and experience, they need to be given respect by children, not vice-versa. The flow of respect goes from child to adult first, not the other way around. For example, in the military it is not incumbent upon an officer to salute a non-commissioned soldier. It is always the lower ranking soldier’s responsibility to pay respect to higher ranking soldiers. This is life. Who in their right mind would order God to do something or call him “dude?” The same process applies to students and teachers, players and coaches, children and parents. There is a hierarchy to life and it needs to be recognized and respected.
Raising children is demanding. As parents, we all have our ways and means. This article has simply offered some of my personal child-raising and student-raising principles that have worked for me in my tenure as a father, teacher and grandfather. I do not proclaim to have all the right answers but the ones I have offered have been successful. I share them only as a means of doing my part to insure a class of children who become responsible, respectful, independent, whole and healthy adults.