Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Our Top Five Life's Lessons- Instilling Integrity In My Kids

My oldest son always seems to wait until the worst time possible to ask for "stuff". Like when we are trying to get our shoes on and get out of the house. Or when I am herding his little brother up to bed. Many, oh so many, times, these requests of me come while their other parent is in the room.  Seriously kids, go ask your dad! 

Last night, just as I was heading upstairs with the persevering preschooler, my super six year old made his nightly request for dessert. Our home is full of fresh fruit, fruit snacks, yogurt, and graham crackers. My boys want for nothing when it comes to their food choices. Well, except for one thing- candy. I swear, candy is like crack to my oldest son. He seems to crave it, and, at times, can think of nothing else.

"No candy tonight.", I tell him.  "How about a Popsicle?", he counters. I agree, remind him to sit at the table to eat it, and dash for the stairs before my youngest son figures out that we even have Popsicles in the house and starts demanding one for himself. He is all about the lack of equality around here.

Forty-five minutes later I call my oldest son up to bed. I go into his room and sink down into the comfy recliner we bought when he was a baby. I love this chair. Not only is it comfortable, but it holds so many sweet memories of a simpler time, a time of baby bibs, bottles, and warm fuzzy blankets. I close my eyes and let the memories wash over me.

My walk down memory lane is shattered by the arrival of my six year old. Suddenly he is standing in front of me, all arms and legs and sticky fingers. And he has a sucker in his mouth. Wait, what?

"Did Daddy tell you you could have that sucker?", I ask, already pretty sure of the answer.
"Did you also have a Popsicle?", I ask, also pretty sure of this answer as well.

As I suspected, my oldest son did have a Popsicle. And, no, Daddy did not tell him he could have the sucker. Daddy didn't know he had climbed up and served himself the candy I had previously told him he could not have.

"Come here.", I call my young son into my lap. He smiles, thinking he has gotten away with this great sucker escapade. "Do you know what integrity means?", I ask. He does not. So we discuss.

"Being a big kid means being responsible for yourself, all the time. It means doing the right thing, making the right choices, even if no one is watching you. Do you understand that?"

We talk about it some more and I give him some examples. I quiz him and give him scenarios, asking him what choices he would make. I explain how he is starting to have more independence- he likes to sit in the waiting chairs at daycare, up front by the doors and the desk, when I drop off his little brother. I explained how I need to be comfortable that he will stay in those chairs, instead of wandering through the school or back outside. He likes to get his own ketchup and napkins when we eat at fast food restaurants and he likes to use the men's room in public, a place I certainly can't follow him! We talked about how growing up means having to sometimes make decisions that we don't really like, like when not to climb on the kitchen counter to get candy. This is hard stuff to teach. We make these kinds of decisions every day, right? But so often, our kids don't see us doing it.

I want both of my boys to grow up to be gentlemen. I want them to be all boy- rocks and dirt and running absolutely everywhere. I want them to be football and bugs. But I also want them to be well rounded. To be violins and piano and art and books. I want them to be men who know it is OK to be gentle and considerate. This is truly the hard stuff to teach.

Here is what I am currently working on with my boys:

  • Listen more than we talk. Listen to everyone- our teachers, our church leaders, our friends, our mom and dad. Listen, and then act. Teacher reminds you to raise your hand during morning session? Then act and remember to also raise your hand in the afternoon.
  • Do what you know needs to be done. Just do it. Pick up your trash. Clean up your dinner dishes. Help your brother with his shoes. Bring your brother his DS. Pick up that book your friend just dropped and hand that pencil that just rolled off her desk back to your teacher. Pay attention and act.
  • Help others who are younger or weaker than you. Don't do for them, unless that is truly called for, but watch over them. This stems from the "ball incident" that happened a while back- you can read about it here. If someone needs something, or if someone is being picked on, act.
  • Keep an open heart towards girls, women, and older adults. Hold open doors, carry grocery bags, protect.  If a girl, women, or older adult needs your help, act.
  • Always be respectful. The other day I was reviewing last week's school work with my super six year old when he voiced concern over a lower than usual grade. He insisted that he had followed the instructions. He genuinely did not understand the grade. It was a great opportunity to speak with him about how to question authority in a truly respectful way. Elders, teachers, those in charge at the moment, act with respect. Friends, siblings, even total strangers, act with respect.
There is so much I want my boys to know. This list could have 100 points on it. 200 maybe. But right now, this is our Top Five. Everything we do, every interaction we have, I try to work in these lessons. And the hardest part might just be working these lessons in to my life as well. I need to act as I want my boys to act. We need to be a family that acts. Whether that be listening to a friend, standing up to a bully, respectfully disagreeing with a teacher, carrying a grocery bag in from the car or picking up trash on a walk in the park. We need to be a family that acts.

So what are you currently working on with your kids?

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