This year, rather than making resolutions to lose weight, read more books and floss for more than just the few weeks after a dental cleaning, America’s mothers and fathers should resolve to do better to raise our next generation of citizens.
The result? A resurgence of skilled and solid parenting could be the key to redefining and rescuing our American culture.
A year ago in this space, I urged parents to shy away from parenting trends (think “Tiger Mom,” “helicopter parents” and focusing on raising “eco kids”), and instead create a trend that refocuses on teaching respect, obedience, accountability, moderation and ambition.
Oddly enough, I did not start a grass-roots movement. Go figure.
This year, I consulted a guru.
Michele Borba, who holds a doctorate, is a parenting adviser, educational consultant and author of 23 books that help parents navigate the rough waters of rearing responsible, independent children.
Ms. Borba knows her stuff, and it turns out that she agrees America’s parenting crisis has taken a toll on our national character. In fact, she is at the forefront of the movement to put character first in the job of parenting.
“We’ve misprioritized our values as parents,” she said. “We put too much emphasis on test scores and building our kids’ resumes and getting into the right college, and not enough on developing their hearts and minds.”
Ms. Borba said the most important thing parents can do to improve their skills and thus their impact in the home is to “be mindful of how you want your kids to turn out.”
Good parenting is not dumb luck; it’s intentional.
Want to be a better parent in 2013? Resolve to take Ms. Borba’s advice and step up your game in five specific ways:
1. Decide what matters most to you and make sure your children know what it is and why.
“You are your child’s first and most important teacher,” Ms. Borba said. “Make sure you are teaching them your values.”
From about age 3, children should be able to answer the question “What matters most to Mom and Dad?” From age 5, they should be able to articulate why that is. Don’t assume that they know your values — articulate them continually.
2. Stop parenting for certain behavioral outcomes and stop focusing on your child’s happiness. Instead, be sure you are teaching your children the values and skills that they will need to one day live without you.
“Life is not about pixie dust,” Ms. Borba said. “Parents today work too hard to make life easy for their kids and by doing this, they rob them of the skills to cope with difficulty. The goal is resiliency and independence, not ‘happiness’ in every day.”
3. Put self-esteem in proper balance; it’s not about self-centeredness.
“Imagine a scale with self-worth on one side, and competency on the other. If your child feels puffed up by praise, but does not have skills and competency, his self-esteem is not genuine,” Ms. Borba said.
The fix? Give children plenty of chances to practice self-reliance and resourcefulness.
“Every month, devise a lesson in self-sufficiency with age-appropriate doses of stress that are intended to give children opportunities for successful problem solving,” she said. “And remember the proverb: Never do for your child what he can do for himself.”
4. Ms. Borba sees America’s children internalizing the anxieties and fears of their parents.
“Our children deserve to be optimistic and positive,” she said. “Pessimism is bad for our kids and bad for our country.”
In 2013, she urges parents to chill out on negative media, expose children to positive news and help them develop a positive worldview.
5. Most important, focus on developing empathy in your child.
“Children are naturally empathetic from an early age,” Ms. Borba said. “But now we know through research that empathy is the first building block of moral character. In it are the seeds of moral conscience and goodness and the virtues of humanity. If you do nothing else to improve your parenting this year, teach your children that empathy matters most.”