5 Key Life Lessons to Teach Your Child Through Books

Teach Your Child Life Lessons Through Books

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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Time to do a quick audit of your bookshelf! Children’s books can be one of the most powerful tools for instilling life lessons.

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):

  1. Exercising self-control
  2. Showing empathy for others and their differences
  3. Taking responsibility for mistakes
  4. Overthinking & worry
  5. 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 good 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

Life Lessons to Teach Your Child  #positiveparenting #lifelesson  "When you have a BIG feeling, stop and think.  Ask, will my next choice help to solve my problem or make new problems for me?"
I’ve captured my favorite life lesson “sparkers” throughout this post that I’ve used as a school counselor. Click “save” in the top left corner to add to your parenting quotes board on Pinterest!

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!”

The “Power to Choose” series continues with this school-day version of the self-control adventure.

Looking for a spunky female protagonist to empower your kids towards positive choices? Darla can help!

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

Life Lessons to Teach Your Child  #positiveparenting #lifelesson  "Treat others the way THEY want to be treated."
Positive parents empower children beyond the golden rule by teaching them to stand in the shoes of others.

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.

How to Spark Empathy (When Kids Show No Remorse!)... Another great article on teaching life lessons to your child.
Another must-read for instilling empathy & encouraging responsibility in our children!

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!

A standout award-winner that embraces diversity, promotes acceptance and helps kids to step into the shoes of everyone around them. Ideal for the elementary-age group.

Life Lesson #3: Take Responsibility for Mistakes

Life Lessons to Teach Your Child  #positiveparenting #lifelesson  "You are human.  You are allowed to make mistakes.  When you do, take responsibility and ask, 'How can I help to make things right?'".
I’m certainly not perfect and don’t expect my students or children to be either! Positive parenting helps kids feel safe to come to us with their mistakes and choose responsibility over the dreaded “blame game”.

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!

Effective questions to ask your child to teach the life lesson of empathy.
Snag your free posters 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.

As a positive parent, Julia Cook is an author to get to know! This is seriously the best book with kiddos who fall into the “blame game” after making a mistake. Ideal for school-aged children.

Life Lesson #4: Manage Worries in a Healthy Way

Life Lessons to Teach Your Child  #positiveparenting #lifelesson  "Try to only worry about what is in your control.  When you feel worried, put things in perspective and ask, 'Will this really matter to me in a week?  What about a month?'".
Full disclosure: I often repeat this one to myself! A great question for the overthinker :).

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!):

  1. Will this matter to you a week from now? One month from now? One year from now?
  2. What’s the worst thing that could happen?
  3. 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.

Black Dog provides a great metaphor for worry and empowers older elementary-aged children to find courage in facing their fears.

Life Lesson #5: Face Obstacles with a Growth Mindset

Life Lessons to Teach Your Child  #positiveparenting #lifelesson  "Remember it is through the most difficult times in life that we grow the most."
A great reminder for us as parents not to “rescue” our kids out of every hardship. By doing so, we help them learn and grow essential life skills.

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.

Life Lesson to Teach Your Child: Growth Mindest  Mindsets: Fixed Mindset vs. Growth Mindset.  Fixed Mindset: "I wasn't born smart and there's no way to fix it", "I avoid doing things that seem hard", "When adults correct me, they are trying to put me down", "I feel threatened by others who work hard and succeed"  Growth Mindset: "The harder I work, the smarter I'll become", "I grow through challenges", "When adults correct me, they are trying to help me learn", "I feel motivated by others who work hard and succeed."
[Reference: Mindset Works.]

It’s no secret that educators and parents wish to instill a growth mindset in their children! Learners who adopt a growth mindset are more likely to persevere through challenges and achieve resilience when faced with adversity.

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.

An especially ideal book for getting school-aged kids motivated and feeling confident in taking ownership of their learning.

The very best children's books for positive parents to teach life lessons.
Don’t forget to pin to your positive parenting Pinterest board so you can refer back! 🙂

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:

  1. Finding the perfect words and knowing just want to say.
  2. 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.

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    With Love & Kindness, Tana
    Hi, I’m Tana! I’m a mom, certified positive discipline parent educator, and former school counselor. It’s my mission to help you make the most of every moment with your children through effective positive & gentle parenting tools. Let’s dive in!

    26 thoughts on “5 Key Life Lessons to Teach Your Child Through Books”

    1. I love this article, these are all such important life lessons to instill in our children. Thank you for compiling this list of lessons and coordinating books! I’m not a mother yet, but I have four nephews and two nieces and can’t wait to share this with my sisters.

      1. Thank you, Lauren! Kids will often be much more excited about a book if it’s been approved by heir favorite aunt! Especially if you include a special note on the inside cover… I always loved it when family members did this growing up! 🙂 Thank you for passing along some of these titles!

      1. Thank you, Maya! You’re not alone in that struggle… fingers crossed she becomes more interested with age! I am really hoping we will be able to safely return to visiting public libraries again soon. When kids can pick out their own book, they are often much more invested and excited about reading it!

    2. Such a great post! Thank you for sharing the 5 imp lessons that all kids need to learn. As an educator I understand that although kids are taught academics they are lacking in soft skills. You may given book examples too, they will be so helpful!

    3. Love this article so much! It’s so true that we could preach life lessons over and over to our children and we wonder how much they’ve heard. But when they see it printed in a book with pictures they can identify with …something simply clicks. Your suggested reading list is awesome. I’ll be using it to purchase books for the grandkids! Thank you!

    4. This is great, love these book ideas. My son could use some work on responsibility and accountability–things are always someone else’s fault and I’m having a hard time communicating to him that that kind of attitude only leads to trouble in life as an adult.

      1. Thank you, Rebecca! As an elementary school counselor, I want to assure you that is SO normal and you are not alone. It’s difficult for kiddos to make the connection that blaming only causing more problems. He will get there eventually! In the meantime, I cannot recommend Julia Cook’s “But It’s Not My Fault!” enough… kids love this one!

    5. These are very good tips. I try to find books for my kids that have good messages they can take from them. Taking responsibility is one of the big ones in my house. Knowing that it’s ok to make a mistake but also be honest about it is big!

    6. I love this post! Books were my escape when I was a kid and I hope to pass the love of reading to my own children one day.

    7. I love the idea of teaching through books. There are some children’s books I read with my own parents as a kid, and the lessons have really stuck with me.

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