With so much negativity and hurt going on in the world, many parents wonder what they can do to ensure a better future for their kids. And today’s parents sure have a lot of power to exercise—they’re raising the next generation, so they can control how the future plays out! Of course, it’s also a big responsibility to make sure the kids are not only healthy, happy, and humble, but also that they develop positive character traits.
So how do you make sure your under-threes are upstanding citizens by the time they enter preschool? The answer lies in everything we do with them from birth on up. How we treat our children, how we treat each other, and how we interpret the world all play a part in how we not only raise our babies but also shape their personalities and their character.
It’s not easy to welcome a baby into the world and start thinking ahead 20 or more years, deciphering how your actions now will affect their lives. But the best we can do is try and be attentive parents who are proactive about teaching our kids the right things so they can carry on the positivity well into the future. To that end, here are 20 things we can do to impact our children’s character for the better in their first three years.
20 Teaching Consent Comes First
Plenty of parents are big on having kids give out hugs, kisses, or other types of affection. But teaching our kids consent from an early age can actually help them to relate to people better, feel comfortable setting their own boundaries, and feel secure when interacting with people.
After all, would you want to hug a stranger or give a kiss to someone that you found intimidating?
And what if someone bigger than you demanded affection when you didn’t want to give it? Sure, it sounds extreme to ask your kid for a hug before you give one, but understanding and exercising consent can make a huge difference in their overall character as they grow.
19 Stop Saying Sorry And Start Apologizing
We moms and dads tend to start early when it comes to teaching our kids to apologize and expecting them to feel remorse. But most of the time, our toddlers totally don’t get it and just say sorry so they won’t get in trouble. The thing is, teaching kids to say sorry when they don’t mean it doesn’t help anyone—whether it’s the person who’s been wronged or the person who committed a bad deed.
It’s better to talk things through and come up with a better, more fitting apology for the situation. Besides, most times kids will feel bad about hurting a friend, so giving them the tools to fix things—rather than saying a single word—can help more than anything else.
18 Forcing Sharing Only Slows It
Sharing is another basic tenet of preschool that most kids are expected to learn by around age three. But if you think about sharing in terms of grownups, it becomes more confusing. After all, we don’t expect complete strangers to share their phones (toys) with us, give us a bite of their snacks, or hand over the book we’re currently reading.
So why would we expect our kids to just give up their stuff to a stranger?
Teach kids they have to wait until a friend is done with a toy to have a turn and let kids exercise their rights over their own belongings.
Instead of forcing sharing, we can hand out an extra snack for our tots to give to friends, because we all know how nice it feels to give a friend something... when we haven't been forced!
17 The Participation Trophy Myth
Although I don’t think there’s much credence to the argument that millennials are all about participation trophies, some people really are.
But parents who celebrate their child’s every achievement (oh you lost a tooth, oh you peed in the potty, oh you didn’t bite anyone at daycare today) aren’t doing their young tot any favors!
Kids should learn to deal with disappointment in a healthy way—now that builds character! Congratulating kids for every achievement will just lead to them expecting kudos for everything, and that’s not healthy, nor is it even possible in the long run.
Sure, celebrate big milestones, but don’t cheer for every move your kiddo makes.
16 Showing Acceptance To Everyone
Parents are their children’s first teachers, and to that end, the things we model for them become hugely important.
And in the first few years of our kids’ lives, we can teach them so much without even meaning to—like how to treat other people. Modeling how to treat others, including being kind and inclusive to everyone, can go a long way in shaping our children’s characters—something that will last throughout their lives.
Whatever your personal beliefs, always practicing kindness can show your kids that it’s expected to be nice to people who are different, and that being different isn’t a bad thing.
15 Don’t Teach Stranger Danger
Ah, stranger danger. It’s the classic term parents use to describe the way they scare their kids into not talking to strangers. But then consider when you’re out somewhere and a benign grandma type approaches and speaks to your tot—do you consider him rude for ignoring this “stranger”?
Instead of “stranger danger,” you might consider using another term or strategy for teaching your child to avoid “tricky people.”
Teaching him that it’s healthy to be aware without being paranoid can help form his character in good ways, and keep him from being scared of every person you meet. Of course, this strategy should accompany an age-appropriate explanation of what “tricky people” are.
14 Making Diversity A Regular Thing
Parents of children of color recognize this more than anyone else, but parents of all children can showcase diversity for their kids in order to make it the norm. If you live in an area that’s not diverse, try to incorporate diversity into your home life—buy dolls that don’t just match your child’s skin color, pick books with all kinds of characters, and make sure to watch films where a variety of people are represented.
The more children are exposed to different people, the less likely they are to judge those people later in life, giving them a positive character trait that’s lifelong.
13 Even Little Kids Can Self Regulate
I have a friend who has had a “junk food” drawer ever since her kids were small. Of course, mom stocks the treats, so the kids are limited in that way. But their mom always lets them pick whatever snacks they want, whenever they’re hungry.
And guess what? The kids don’t gorge on junk! They pop in for a snack when they’re hungry, or they ask mom for help, and that’s that. And while it won’t work for every family—starting from babyhood is usually ideal for babies to begin feeding themselves until they’re full—most kids can learn to self-regulate, whether it’s regular meals or junky sometimes-snacks.
That's the ultimate in healthy character.
12 Claim All The Colors
Children are both deep and whimsical when it comes to choosing the things they like and what they want to do. So for a boy to decide he likes the color pink, it comes from an internal place more than it comes from anywhere else.
Of course, sometimes he’s just jealous of his sisters for having such cool sparkly outfits to dress up in, but odds are, your kid likes the colors he likes just because he likes the way they look.
And while it’s tempting to stop boys from wearing pink or purple—especially if they’re often mistaken for being girls—there’s truly no harm in it! Letting boys wear what they like helps strengthen their character, not make them into “wusses” for wearing a “feminine” color.
11 Time-Ins Instead Of Time-Outs
Studies have shown that timeouts aren’t positive for tots, especially younger ones. And if you think about it, isolating a child who’s acting out doesn’t solve the root problem.
It only makes them feel worse about themselves, possibly even perpetuating the bad behavior that landed them in timeout in the first place.
So instead, try using time-ins to help shape your child’s character in a positive way. Time-ins are when a parent or caregiver sits with the child and helps to work out their big feelings—something we could all benefit from doing, especially in heated situations!
10 Skipping Cry-It-Out Sessions
Although plenty of moms swear by it, using the “cry it out” method has shown to be detrimental to babies’ development. The thing is, babies are programmed to cry when their needs aren’t being met, and sleeping alone while hungry, cold, and with a wet diaper definitely qualifies as needs not being met.
Instead of letting the baby cry, parents can help form his or her character in a positive way by using gentler methods of achieving sleep. Besides, most babies begin to sleep through the night the older they get, once the biological need to eat every few hours subsides. Until then, toughing out the long nights is best for baby’s character.
9 Co-Sleeping Creates Independence
In addition to dropping the cry it out method, parents can also try co-sleeping to get their babies (and themselves) a better night’s rest.
Most parents think that co-sleeping is apt to create a character flaw in their tots, most notably the inability to sleep alone or soothe themselves.
But in fact, some studies have suggested that babies and toddlers who co-sleep with mom go on to be more independent in late toddlerhood and beyond. It likely comes from the sense of security babies develop when sleeping near mom—knowing that she’s there to take care of them can relieve fears and help them develop confidence in their own abilities.
8 Talk And Talk All The Time
While most parents do this by default, many more don’t realize just how important it is to talk with your baby. Parents should be talking to their tots from day one, both for bonding purposes and speech development! Barring any underlying health or speech issues, babies begin to develop their speech thanks to mom and dad’s contributions.
This positively affects your baby’s character, since you’re helping them learn the best way to communicate. Not only does starting early get your baby in the mood for gabbing, but it also helps expand their vocabulary, potentially making them even more articulate as they grow up.
7 Tattling Versus Truth-Telling
There are times when telling the truth is paramount: when someone gets hurt, when someone is in danger, or if something bad could happen if a secret is kept.
But there’s a big difference between tattling and telling the truth! And while parents tend to solicit the truth out of their kids, constantly asking them to report on their siblings’ or friends’ behavior can make them into tattletales.
Teaching when it’s appropriate to tell the truth can help develop character. It can also help kids learn to distinguish what’s a dangerous situation and what might just be upsetting to them because someone else has a toy they want.
6 TV Time Can Be Tricky
All parents want their kids to be outgoing and want to play outside, make friends, and be just generally friendly and genial. But what happens to kids when they spend hours each day in front of the TV?
While some sources note there are potential benefits to early childhood programming and media, TV time can also be tricky for young kids when it comes to building character. Ideally, parents should audit all programs their tots watch, but it’s also a good idea to limit how much they’re watching.
Making sure there’s a balance of real-world experience and digital experience should help build positive character.
5 Beginning With Bribery
I’ll be the first to admit it: sometimes bribery is flat-out the only way I can get my kids to do something.
However, I only use bribery for things that aren’t really a big deal—not for stuff like cleaning their rooms, brushing their teeth, or getting to bed on time. As parents, we’ve got to have non-negotiables, right?
Letting our kids get away with everything and then earning a reward for doing what they should have done in the first place can negatively affect their character. We can fix it by only using minor bribes for small stuff—maybe so they master potty training, or leave us alone for two minutes while we pee.
4 Daycare Versus Days At Home
I read recently that kids who go to daycare are more outgoing and fare better in social situations than kids who don’t attend daycare. And whatever your feelings are on the matter, there are benefits both ways for kids—and much of it depends on your child’s temperament, how attached they are to mom or dad (either healthily or unhealthily), and more.
Whatever you choose for your child (or whatever you are forced to choose), know that this affects their character over the long term. The best thing you can do is ensure they’re receiving quality care and one-on-one time no matter where they’re at, whether it’s an in-home daycare, with a nanny, with mom or dad, or in a daycare facility.
3 Let Them DIY
It’s hard to stand back and watch while your toddler spills milk all over the place while fixing a bowl of cereal. It’s even harder to stand by and watch them get dressed “me-do” style while you wait, staring at the clock.
But the truth is, kids grow character from doing things on their own. And besides, after all that practice, they’ll eventually be pros at getting dressed, feeding themselves, and getting out of the house sort of on time.
Kudos to the moms that have the patience to do this from the first moment their toddlers demand “me-do,” but hey, we should all try it!
2 Setting Safe Limits
Rules make the world go ‘round, right? But did you ever stop and think that too many rules might be bad for your kid? If there are rules about everything your child does, they’re never learning to set their own limits.
Giving toddlers the space to test their limits, however, is not only good for their development and self-esteem, but it also helps build character.
Make sure they’re safe, sure, but then try and let your toddler make decisions within your pre-set parameters. Giving up a bit of control is also helpful for toddlers, especially, to figure things out and truly develop their character.
1 Petting With Kindness
Although those viral videos of kids and pets playing together are super cute—think babies flopping on their doggies— they’re also a bit dangerous. After all, there’s no telling whether your family pet will get annoyed with your baby’s grabbing, pulling, and flopping. The thing is, it’s up to grownups to model proper puppy petting behavior.
Modeling how we treat animals so that both our kiddos and our pets can stay safe, healthy, and still be our friends at the end of the day builds respect for all living things.
Ideally, you should start in babyhood and teach your tot to respect his furry (or scaly or feathery) friends.