As parents we are united by one common goal: To raise good people. No biggie, right?! We only have all of society counting on us to do so! 😉 Instilling morals, values, and sound decision-making skills are among the most monumental responsibilities we hold as parents. So what are the most important life lessons to teach your child? And how can you teach your child those life lessons without “lecturing” so that they truly get it?
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How to Teach Your Child Life Lessons Through Books
I recently taught my last (virtual) elementary school counseling lesson (for now), as I’ve chosen to spend more time at home with my son and focus on Such a Little While. To this end, I pondered for days on what to say. What would be most meaningful and impactful for these wonderfully amazing 300+ children?
Ultimately, I reflected back on the past eight years as a professional school counselor. All of those hours teaching and counseling thousands of students ages 3 to 23. What were their most common challenges? How could I help my current students achieve resilience when faced with those same obstacles? Furthermore, how might I be able to use this knowledge in my own positive parenting journey?
Looking back on all of the children I’ve had the pleasure of problem-solving with over the years, I noted that nearly all grappled in some way, shape, or form with one (or more) of five super common childhood challenges. Nearly everyone experiences these difficulties in life at some point in time we can surely bet our kids will too. These 5 challenges laid the groundwork for my final lesson as well as the life lessons I hand-selected for this article.
5 Super Common Childhood Challenges (from a school counselor’s vantage point):
- Exercising self-control
- Showing empathy for others and their differences
- Taking responsibility for mistakes
- Overthinking & worry
- Viewing obstacles and hard work with a fixed mindset
The Benefits of Books When It Comes to Life Lessons To Teach Your Child
As parents, it’s never too early to start the dialogue and help our kids strive for resilience. As both a school counselor and parent, I’ve found that “planting a seed” on a life lesson is often accomplished most effectively and efficiently through reading books together.
Specifically, reading books can help us move away from an ineffective “lecturing” approach, and show our children love through quality time together. Books bring an objective perspective into the conversation. Furthermore, they can empower kids to make positive choices by exercising free will.
The 5 Most Important Life Lessons to Teach Your Child (& the Kids’ Books to Help You Do It!)
Life Lesson #1: Exercise Self-Control
When things are calm, most kids do a great job of making positive choices. It’s when big emotions are at play that things can get dicey (this goes for us as adults too!). As children learn to identify their own feelings, they can increase their awareness of when and how to exercise self-control. When working with students, I often ask them to identify the changes they feel in their bodies when they experience an emotion such as anger (e.g., clenched fist, sweaty palms, rapid heartbeat). I like to explain that these are “reminders” our bodies give us to stop and think.
“Will my next choice solve the problem, or create a new one?”
This was definitely one of my most frequently uttered questions as a school counselor. It can be used in the past tense: “Do you feel your choice solved the problem or created new ones? If yes, what are the new problems we can work together to solve?” (e.g., unkind words resulting in hurt feelings, etc.)
Ideally, as children build their self-monitoring skills, we want to help them (1) recognize big feelings on their own, then (2) ask themselves, “What choice can best help me to solve this problem?”.
Best Children’s Books for Teaching Self-Control Skills
A “choose-your-own-adventure” book focused on careful decision-making at home. Kids learn they have a secret superpower… the “Power to Choose!”
I’m making a clean sweep on the “Power to Choose” series here when it comes to decision-making and self-control books and for good reason. These books are structured in a “choose-your-own-adventure” format that children really buy into. Kids get to pick the main character’s choices (positive or negative) when faced with common day-to-day obstacles. Read them over and over again in new ways and compare outcomes! Readers learn it’s always possible to turn your day around, even after a mistake.
Danny was a HUGE hit among my second graders this year but is totally appropriate for the preschool crowd too! The “Power to Choose” series is my top pick because these books actually provide an opportunity for kids to practice the skill of thinking through choices.
Life Lesson #2: Have Empathy & Compassion, Especially When Others are Different
With the current challenges our nation faces, empathy for others, and compassion for diversity are values many parents have especially honed in on this year. I like to challenge children to soar beyond the “golden rule” and “treat others the way they want to be treated”. This is really just kid-speak for emotional intelligence (the ability to make decisions based on the emotions you accurately identify in yourself and others).
Often, kids have the ability to empathize; however, they appear to lack remorse following a conflict with a peer or sibling. Their empathy becomes “blocked” in a way, as a result of anger and/or fear of being “in trouble”. If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. I invite you to check out one of my most popular parenting resources, My Child Shows No Remorse! How to Spark Empathy.
Best Children’s Books for Teaching Empathy & Valuing Diversity
This adorable book teaches kids how to find opportunities for kindness and good deeds in their daily life. Great for toddlers/preschoolers (and up!).
Part of a kids’ mediation series that reminds us we are all imperfect humans who deserve kindness. Ideal for preschool and early elementary kiddos!
Life Lesson #3: Take Responsibility for Mistakes
This one is SO hard for young children, particularly during sibling squabbles! In life, it’s essential to move beyond saying, “It’s wasn’t my fault!” and start saying “How can I help to make things right again?”.
I’m a huge fan of using Restorative Practices in the school setting and feel it can make a seamless transition into the world of positive parenting. There are 6 key restorative questions we can ask as educators and parents to spark empathy and help our kids take responsibility after he or she has caused harm. To make things easier, I’ve put them all on a free printable poster for you- perfect for quick access on your fridge or phone!
Interested in learning more about restorative practices for positive parents? I’m happy to walk you through it here!
Best Children’s Books on Taking Responsibility
George is a loveable, good dog who struggles to resist temptation. A great way to get our youngest kiddos thinking about responsible decision-making. Great for toddlers and up.
This is such a cute story that empowers young children to become “experts” on responsibility! Especially helpful for preschoolers and up.
Life Lesson #4: Manage Worries in a Healthy Way
Focus only on what’s in your control
We all experience worry, some more than others. For some kiddos, overthinking and dwelling on fears outside of their control can begin to take a toll on their social and emotional well-being. We can help our children process worries and anxiety in a healthy way by empowering them to identify and focus on what is in their control.
Re-frame your thinking & put things into perspective
Furthermore, helping children to re-frame their thoughts and put things into perspective can go a long way. Here are some of my favorite perspective-shifting questions to ask kids (just don’t forget to validate their feelings of worry before you ask them!):
- Will this matter to you a week from now? One month from now? One year from now?
- What’s the worst thing that could happen?
- Pretend you are a detective. What “clues” or “evidence” can you find that proves this worry is likely to happen?
Best Children’s Books for Managing Worries & Anxiety
Ruby has one small worry that just keeps growing and growing! This sweet story teaches kids how to take back control of their thoughts. Particularly ideal for toddlers and preschoolers.
Another Julia Cook classic. Wilma Jean is the ultimate worrier and provides elementary-aged kiddos a chance to discuss fears and anxiety from an objective point of view.
Life Lesson #5: Face Obstacles with a Growth Mindset
While attending a school counseling conference in 2017, I had the chance to learn from the mother of growth mindset herself, Dr. Carol Dweck. Dr. Dweck spent decades researching the way children’s minds approach difficult tasks and her findings have had a lasting and profound impact on the field of education. She concluded there are two ways of thinking for kids (and grown-ups) when it comes to learning: A growth mindset and a fixed mindset. In short, children with a growth mindset are able to see obstacles and challenges as opportunities for growth, while those with a fixed mindset often shut down in the face of adversity and critique.
Best Children’s Books for Teaching Growth Mindset
A beautiful picture book that certainly inspires and celebrates hard-work and perseverance. Great for toddlers and up.
A humorous guide for kids to accept and respond to both compliments and constructive feedback. Perfect for preschool-age and up.
The Last Thing You Need to Know About Life Lessons to Teach Your Child
When trying to teach kids life lessons, it can be easy to worry about:
- Finding the perfect words and knowing just want to say.
- Feeling like we aren’t the “perfect” role model for the life lesson we are trying to instill.
Finding the right words to teach your child life lessons
Finding the “perfect words” when talking about difficult or important subjects really isn’t necessary. It’s all about planting a seed and letting your child know this topic is always on the table for discussion. Furthermore, you’re showing them that you are there to support them through any missteps they may make along the way! Think back on your own childhood… our memories (good or bad) have stuck around because of how someone made us feel in that moment, not because of the particular verbiage that someone used.
My child isn’t getting it… help!
Sometimes it’s tough to talk about life lessons in kid’s speak. A few years ago I made the shift from high school to elementary school counseling and boy, was changing my verbiage tough! If your child isn’t connecting to what you’re saying or reading, keep rephrasing, provide examples, and invite them to ask questions until they do. A monumental life lesson is rarely mastered in a day. When it comes to life lessons to teach your child, repetition is key!
Acting as a role model when teaching your child life lessons
Certainly, we want to strive to model the qualities we wish to instill in our children. We know that actions speak louder than words. This being said, I do feel that we need to give ourselves a little grace as parents. Putting too much pressure on ourselves or pretending to be a “perfect person” doesn’t help our children! When we grow through our own mistakes, our children grow with us. Kids learn to self-reflect, apologize, and make things right on their own (without being forced) by observing us take those same steps.
Let us support you along the way!
Mama, if you ever feel like you’re walking through motherhood alone, I really want to help put an end to that today. Certainly, being a mother is the hardest job in the world. Furthermore, no one “gets it” like other like-minded mamas. In Such a Little While’s Circle of Support for gentle and positive parents, we recognize that as mothers, we are truly better together.
Lastly, if you hold empathy as a core parenting value and wish to get connected with a larger parenting community, I wholeheartedly extend an invitation for you to join our Circle of Support below. As a top mama, you’ll receive the very best content from Such a Little While, along with free bonus parenting resources and social & emotional learning activities for kids.