It’s a huge responsibility–helping your child learn acceptable and appropriate behavior. How do you build the foundation for his/her developing value system and character?
Your child is learning what is right from wrong and what is desirable versus unacceptable through your praise and correction. But that is not all; your goal is to ultimately instill in your child the ability for him/her to self-praise and self-correct – this is the basis for building strong character. Thus, what you say and do and how you act and react are major influences on your child’s actions. In other words, acknowledging positive behavior while describing it, in addition to modeling appropriate and acceptable behaviors will be what your child imitates and learns. In order to support your child’s character development, keep in mind three things.
First, you need support in your role as a parent because raising children in a difficult world is a challenge. It is important to form friendships with other parents who have the same value system for their children as you do for yours. Friendships with other Christian parents offer you invaluable support.
Second, realize that parenting is not done by instinct or by chance. Successful parenting is based on a daily, concentrated effort to set a good example and do a good job. It is impossible to be on your “best behavior” in front of your child 24 hours a day. Fortunately, it is helpful for your child to see you feeling different emotions and watching how you handle difficult situations. Be reminded, however, that it is how you handle yourself during trying times that influences your child the most.
Third, point out the desirable behaviors in your child. Focusing attention on the positive characteristics and behaviors of your Preschooler serves as reinforcement for him/her to continue those behaviors. When your child falls short of expectations, try to phrase your disappointment to state the desired action. For example, say, “Thank you, Adam, for picking up your toys. When you do, we can walk safely around the room.” Be positive.
Teaching values begins at birth. When your baby first smiles, you get excited, talk to him/her lovingly and smile back, which in turn makes him/her smile more. This is just one example of how you are reinforcing your baby’s desirable actions. You are rewarding the behaviors you value. By continuing to praise you baby’s actions, he/she will be more motivated to continue those same actions so that he/she will get the same rewarding response from you.
Your baby is learning from your actions in other ways as well. When you are angry, your baby will be able to know the difference between an angry voice and a calm, soothing voice. When you are holding your child and you are upset, he/she feels your tension and in turn, may become upset himself/herself. Consciously be aware of what you say around your child and how you act around him/her. Even though he/she may be too young now to imitate certain behavior, he/she is affected by those behaviors.
Whatever reaction and emotion you display, whether it is positive or negative, will influence how your child reacts to certain people, situations and emotions as he/she grows up. Character development is promoted primarily by parents who are the major influencers and most motivating persons for young children. It is never too early to begin the development of positive reinforcement and modeling of desired behavior.
Excerpt taken from Discipline for Life: Getting it Right with Children (M. Swift, 1999)