Mr. Lion and I have been blessed with an incredible opportunity and responsibility as parents. We get to raise our child(ren) to be the next generation. The opportunity for teaching things like compassion, empathy, tolerance, and love begins now. I think sometimes we spend a lot of energy on things that, ultimately, don’t really matter as much in the long run. We agonize about whether or not to sleep train. We lay awake at night debating with ourselves about whether or not it is okay for us to use formula, or when to potty train, or what kind of childcare to arrange. But we don’t spend a whole lot of time planning for the guidance of our children’s character.
I think no matter how young our children are, Mr. Lion and I need to take the time to consider what values we hope our children will exhibit as adults. When I dream about LL’s future, I don’t imagine him in a particular profession, but I hope and pray that he has passion for making a difference. I don’t imagine where he will live or what he will look like, but I hope and pray he will be kindhearted and look out for the interests of others above himself.
The pressure of this task seems almost overwhelming, but the answer is simple. Mr. Lion and I must exhibit, as parents, the character that we wish for our children to develop. LL will learn compassion when we stop to hold the door for the people behind us, or when we take a meal to a family who is hurting. He will learn to be a good steward of the earth when we stop to pick up trash on the ground that didn’t come from us, because it is good to leave a place better than we found it. He will learn tolerance in the way his dad and I talk about the things that make people different, but also how we are still the same. He will learn empathy by watching the way we treat others. He will learn integrity when we choose to do what is right rather than what is easy. The forming of his character will not take place by what we tell him, or what he learns at church or school (although these are important too), but by what he witnesses in us.
To me, this is one of the most terrifying truths about parenting. I can protect him from a lot of things….but can I protect him from my own weaknesses? Can I somehow teach him good character, in spite of all my failures as a mom and as a person? I am not perfect, and I will mess up. Daily. But here’s the beautiful thing…. he will learn it is okay to make mistakes when I apologize for my own. He will learn forgiveness in the way we forgive each other.
I am not naïve enough to believe that we will be the only influences on LL’s beliefs about the world, especially as he gets older. But the primary responsibility of teaching these traits is in our hands. In addition to modeling, one of the easiest ways to teach children about the world and to share what we believe is through discussion about quality literature. So I am thankful for authors like Todd Parr, who make such difficult topics much easier to discuss, and remind me of the incredible responsibility we have to model what we want our children to believe. In college I did a project about children’s literature and focused on his books. I have quite a collection, and I was excited to share this one with LL.
It’s Okay to Be Different by Todd Parr (you can click here to see a preview)
As LL stared at the brightly colored pictures and I read the short repetitive sentences (his favorite kind!), I suddenly realized that at 5 months old, I am already helping to form the way he sees the world. By reading to him, by introducing him to people in the community, by talking to him about the world around him, I am teaching him about what we value, and what is important. Which means that as a parent, I better know what we value and what is important.
I love this book because it covers a wide variety of topics which show how different we are in a way that normalizes them all. It is short, and the pictures are wonderful. My favorite is of two fish that are swimming, and there is a hook dangling in the water. The text reads “It’s okay to say no to bad things.” It is creative, and cheerful, and opens the door for discussion about all sorts of things that are much easier to discuss in our home, rather than at Target when we come across someone different from us in person. Most of his books have a theme of acceptance and understanding of differences, and I would highly recommend checking out more than just this one.
What are your favorite books for developing your child’s character?