3 Ways to teach good behavior

Parenting is a tough gig, as many of you know. And it doesn’t help that everyone seems to have an opinion. As libertarians (small L) you’d think we would relish the thought of everyone specializing and finding solutions that are right for their own children. But if you spend any time on forums, listening to podcasts, watching videos, or reading blogs you’ll find that even liberty minded parents are not exempt from the trenches of the mommy/daddy wars. A simple post about buying a car seat for your kids can turn into cries of “abuse!” or “neglect!” In fact just the other day in a discussion about raising your children in the faith, my simple admission that I pray with my children daily and take them to church weekly was met with cries of “you’re just a brainwashed statist! Don’t you know that ALL the evil in the world was caused by religious people!” I’m not much of an apologist so I will leave that aside for now. What I want to leave you with is 3 principles for liberty minded parents.

1. Lead by Example

Kids learn by example. They model everything that you do. If you don’t think they are watching, you are mistaken. And like Horton’s law they are more likely to remember ALL of the bad things and forget the good things. So setting a good example really is the key here and it starts with how you treat your kids. It doesn’t matter where you come down on the spank/not-to-spank debate there are ways to do and not do it that really stick with your kids. If your method of punishment includes yelling at them like a drill sergeant because they didn’t make their bed or finish their dinner; then for better or for worse your kid is going to learn that method and will put it to use with his friends and family in the future. If you like books, share that love of books with them by reading bedtime stories and also read a book by yourself so the kids can see. Those moments are going to stick with them. Just the other day I started reading “The Phantom Tollbooth” with my kids. Just one chapter a night, but now when I get home they eagerly bring me “The Dog Book.” (They call it this because there is a dog on the cover.) It doesn’t take once-in-a-lifetime trips to Disney Land or even fancy birthday parties to model good behavior, it just takes being a good person. Follow the NAP as much as you can and treat everyone with respect. Do that, and your kids will notice.

2. Make decisions and act

So often we are plagued with decision fatigue. Every day there are thousands of decisions to make and millions of answers. In a day with Google, smartphones, and Siri it is easy to get stuck in this endless feedback loop and never actually make a decision. I’ve often heard it said that one of the biggest issues people face today is “the curse of knowledge.” That is the belief that there is always something you need to learn before you make a decision. While I don’t want to discourage a lifelong pursuit of knowledge, sometimes you just have to act. Rather than Googling “ways to teach your kids the fun of Frisbee Golf” just throw them in the car and take them. They might have a terrible time or you might have just found a new hobby to share with them. You’re going to run into a lot less decision fatigue and your kids are going to notice you taking bold actions and are going to remember that when it’s time for them to make decisions. “Should I invest in starting this business or just keep building my savings?” “Should I marry this woman or that woman?” Those are much bigger decisions to be sure, but they follow the same principles. If you waffle on them for years, you’re going to miss your opportunity.

3. Show Them Love

This is perhaps the most important one, and the most overlooked. Maybe that’s because it is philosophical, changes culture to culture, and means different things to different people. But it’s a theme that was visible in the other two principles. Love them unconditionally. It will pay off in spades. I know when my children feel loved. It looks like a sticky wet kiss first thing when you come in the door from work, it looks like a smile from ear to ear, and it looks like a contented grin as they close their eyes for bed time. Sure, there are going to be times where you want to violate the NAP on them because they poured apple sauce in your favorite pair of dress shoes or scratched your new golf clubs. It’s ok to be angry with them; it’s even ok to punish them (appropriately.) Just try to remember why you even bother… it’s because you love them.  When they’ve paid their debt to society, they’re going to remember that lesson because you always dealt with them in love. They learn by example.

Obviously, I could come up with thousands of other rules, maxims, axioms, and bits of wisdom and I could probably find some parenting book out there to corroborate what I am saying. But that would just be adding to the cacophony of advice parents have to wade through. I picked these three because they are broad, they are applicable to almost any set of parents, and it is easy to start right now. In the comments below I want you to do me a favor. I want you to show me one way you are going to put these principles into action. Bonus points if you tell me how it went.

Bio: Aaron Nielsen is husband to a lovely bride, the father of three amazing little boys (3 and under), perpetual nerd and an author at www.drivingonsunday.com.

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One Comment

  1. I’d like to make the third principle more apparent. I’m not a sentimental person, and I’m not sure how well I communicate to my kids the love I have for them, so I’d like to be more deliberate with that. You know, pay attention to what I’m doing and make sure I’m transmitting the love clearly and regularly.

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