How do you help your children stand up for what's right without being "preachy" or "goody-goody"?
The most important skill you can teach your child is how to determine what is right and what is wrong and how to choose right and stay away from wrong. This is the whole reason children need parents. If my child can't match his outfits, doesn't know how to do mathematics well, never changes his bed sheets, or talks with his mouth full, it doesn't really matter at all if he has mastered how to discern between what is right and what is wrong and chooses to follow right. God gave me a child for one main reason, to save the soul of that child from destruction and prepare him to return to the presence of God. This is a lofty goal, but can be accomplished if I teach the difference between right and wrong to my child, and show her how to choose right.
The goal mentioned above is perfectly ideal. This is why I remind myself of it often. I love ideals. I know some people have a negative association with this word. But, for me an ideal is a reason to start over every day with hope of improving. Ideals keep me going in the right direction. I don't believe in settling for mediocrity.
Many of our friends and neighbors don't care about the ideals we care about. This is OK. Each person and family has to find their own truths at their own rate. And, each family is going to have different ways of raising children.
As part of our Family Standard we have a dress standard. We have decided to only wear certain kinds of swimsuits, and only wear ball caps in certain directions, we don't wear some kinds of trendy clothing or overly showy jewelry, etc. Anything that attracts too much attention to our body is prohibited by our Family Standard. My husband and I don't want our children to worship their bodies, or anyone elses. Focusing too much on bodies encourages selfish behavior, and detachment from family and mission.
I went into all this detail about our Family Standard to share a story with you.
Our family is friends with another family who doesn't have the same kind of dress standard which we have. When I notice that they dress differently than my family, I say nothing. These people are my friends, and they have the agency to make their own choices. However, in my home, I discuss the clothing choices of people we associate with with my children. Not in a judgemental sort of way, but in a way which compares the standard observed with our dress standard, and inspires my children to love our standard. I say things like, "Misty's outfit was very colorful, but it's too bad that it showed so much of her stomach. Misty must have a different dress standard than our family. She would even look more beautiful to me if she dressed modestly."
Once, some years ago, my out spoken daughter was swimming with our friends. She came home from swimming and told me her really good friend was wearing a swimming suit that our family wouldn't wear. I told her the best plan would be to not talk about her friend's choice in swim suits to her friend. She responded with, "Mom, I already told her that we don't wear that kind of swim suit because it isn't appropriate." Of course I was a bit nervous at how our good friend would take this remark of my daughter's. The mother of my daughter's friend told me the remark was made, so I briefly told her about our family's Family Standard and the kinds of things included on it, like movie ratings, and language etc. I told the mother that I would work on teaching my daughter better social etiquette. And I did. It took some time, but my daughter is much better in social settings now.
The best part of this story, is a few weeks later my daughter's friend came over to our house to swim wearing a different swim suit. I commented on her suit, and she said, "We were buying a new suit, and I told my mom to get this one, because Paije would say the other one was inappropriate." I guess it wasn't all bad that my daughter spoke up when she did. This other little girl became more informed. Because she was able to see how someone else made decisions, she was more motivated to think her own decisions through before deciding.
Most often saying nothing is the best social thing to teach your children to do. I teach them to say nothing about a person's appearance and just talk to me about it after. Besides, people will notice your example, and respect you for what you stand for. I have an amazing neighbor who likes to work in her yard dressed a bit differently than I do, but the second she sees my children come outside, she adds a layer to her outfit. She told me once, I always cover up when your children come out, because I don't want them to see me like that. I loved her so much more that day. What an unselfish act! I love her. She is an example of a very respectful neighbor. Someone, I am glad to call my friend. And when she respects us for how we are, it is so much easier for us to respect her for how she is.
There are some things which I think are appropriate to comment on, in certain places. If someone swears around you and you don't like it, it is OK to kindly ask them to stop. However, if one of my friends ever swears at their own home, and I am at their home, I don't say anything. It is their house. If they are at my house, it is a different story. We simply say, "Our Family Standard says that we can't use that word, so please don't say that word at our house. :)"
I keep to the same rule if someone smokes, drinks, watches TV etc at their own home. I can't and shouldn't try to control what other people do in their own homes. But, I can and should control what gets to happen at my home. If someone asks to smoke in my home, the answer is no, if someone asks to watch TV in my home, the answer is no, etc. At school or in public places, it is OK to correct someones behavior, although it won't always work. People shouldn't take away other people's rights to enjoy public life by being inappropriate, or unkind. The perfect skill to use is disagreeing appropriately. If that doesn't work, leave the presence of the offender.
Because I teach my children that it is socially appropriate to not comment on how other people live in their homes, I also have to teach my child when he/she has to come home from a friend's house. If the TV comes on or is on, my child has to go outside or come home. If the computer comes on, my child has to call me. If anything in the home my child is visiting goes against our family standard, my child needs to leave. I have told them that if they are following the Family Standard, the excuse for them to come home is, "My Mom needs me to come home right now."
As you might imagine, I try to keep a lot of my children's play at our home or in the yard. We live in a time when pornography and child abuse is everywhere often happening in many of the homes we live by, and we don't know it is happening there. I am cautious about where my children can go, not because I don't like a neighbor, but because I don't know how many of the people I consider friends have become addicted to sex etc. Our society is much more graphic than it was when I was a child, although at the tender age of 6 I learned about sex and inappropriate things from some of my neighbors too; even back then. My parents didn't have a clue what the neighborhood was teaching me.
Make sure you make a Family Standard for your children. Having this will make speaking up so much easier for them. It will also give your child something to point blame at if they ever need to as well. "No, I don't use those kinds of things. Our family has made a promise to each other that we will keep drugs out of our bodies. It's our Family Standard, and we can't go against it."
When it comes right down to it, I know it is socially annoying to be a "goody-goody," but truthfully, I think the world needs more "goody-goodies" who will stand up and speak up for what they know to be right. If your child really knows how to disagree appropriately, then tell them when it is OK to disagree. After that, if someone chooses to become offended, oh well, maybe they will become offended enough to change. If you never offend anyone, you aren't standing firmly enough for what you believe. God put us all here to help each other along our life's journey. If we never speak up, we are really being selfish, by protecting our comfort zone, aren't we? My goal is to be diplomatic and stand firmly upon my beliefs at the same time. This is what I am trying to teach my children as well. We can all be kind and hold to our standards at the same time.