Mention the “4th of July” and every American in the room will simultaneously hear “Independence Day.” What popped up in your mind when you read this special date? Did you remember watching the annual fireworks show while cuddled up on the grass with a bowl of homemade ice-cream or apple pie, like me? Were there images of early Americans that fought for their freedom and independence, or did you immediately think of “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?”
To every American, the 4th of July is synonymous with these universal principles of liberty. Countless poles and surveys have been done asking people, “What are the top American values and ideals?” Among the top responses are always “freedom, individualism, and equality.” As a nation we hold these values as the ideal, but do we live these principles and values in our own lives, in our parenting and families and in our community? In my counseling and parent coaching I have noticed that many parents often find themselves falling into parenting behavior and actions that don’t always seem to mesh with these ideals that we profess to hold so dear.
- Instead of freedom based parenting, we seek control.
- Instead of individualism we want them to conform and just become little versions of us.
- Instead of equality, we strive to exploit and reinforce the power differential in our favor.
So, how can we live these values within the walls of our own home, with our own children? After all, these are principles and values that hold true regardless of the circumstance. When these principles of human dignity are applied in our homes, good things follow.
I want to share a few ways we can reinforce these values and principles and utilize them as the powerful tools they are to create capable, healthy children as well as healthy relationships.
Freedom: Teach them what true freedom is. All choices have consequences, positive or negative. Some actually have both positive and negative consequences simultaneously. We must weigh the options and consequences and decide what we are willing to pay for our choices.
- Give up control and trade it for influence. Recognize that control is an illusion. The more we understand this, the more we can let go and help our children make positive decisions on their own instead of trying to simply impose our will upon them.
- Give Choices. In order to teach healthy principles and skills parents do need to set limits, but limits are always more effective when the child has some power in the discussion. All this means is that when you need to ask something of your children or set a limit, give them a couple choices that you are happy with and let them choose. You can learn more about giving effective choices in the TRU Parenting ebook. Find out more by clicking here.
- Say yes more. Seek for ways to say yes more often. Lead with positive conditional statements when the answer needs to be “no.” If your son asks to go play at the neighbor’s house five minutes before dinner, try saying something like, “You’re welcome to go play as soon as dinner is done” or “That sounds fun. You’re welcome to go play at the neighbor’s house tomorrow.”
- Help them understand the connection between action and consequence. Our own level of freedom is dependent upon our choices, current and past. An easy example to illustrate this concept is self health choices: If I choose to eat poorly now and refuse to exercise, it may decrease my level of freedom later in what I can do or even how long I will live. To temper my appetites now may seem like an infringement of my freedom now, but in actuality it produces greater freedom in the long run. The principle of freedom will allow me to do whatever I would like now with what I am given, but natural laws and consequences will always apply and freedom cannot persist against those natural laws if we do not understand how they relate to one another and either build greater freedom or tear it from us. Addiction of any kind is a great example of this principle.
Individualism: Teach them what true individualism is. Teach them to think critically and make their own choices. Let them understand that simply refusing to conform for the sake of being different or individual is no different than conforming blindly and mindlessly. Both the absolute conformist and non-conformist are ultimately making the same mindless, self destructive decision. Help them learn to study the facts, understand both sides and make proactive decisions based on their convictions and what they feel is right.
- Ask their opinion and regard it as important and valid. Realize that there are many “right ways” to do the same thing. Your way is not the only way or even the best way. Ask for your children’s help and opinions regarding problems you face. Ask them to come up with solutions and ideas for issues your family faces and then recognize those ideas. Give them a try. Let them discover what works and what doesn’t.
- Listen more than you talk. Too often we seek only to hear what we want to hear in order to respond with our great parental wisdom. We can learn far more by truly seeking to understand. Just listen. Don’t try to fix things or advise, at least for a while. Open your ears and your heart to what is really being said
- Don’t worry so much about their hair. I pick on hair because it seems to be an issue between many kids and their parents as they grow up. Teens often use their hair as a means to express their individuality or simply to explore their ability to be different or to defy mom, dad or some other norm. Truth is that hair is a pretty trivial battle field to die on. Kids may have other ways that they try to test their autonomy. They do different things at different ages as they gain new abilities. Set appropriate limits when necessary but allow for some space to exercise their new autonomy and skills as they grow.
- Encourage them to express themselves. Help your kids find ways to show others who they are. Help them find things they are good at and things they love or are passionate about. Discuss how they feel about things. Make intelligent dinner-time conversation and invite them to contribute. Consider their thoughts and answers.
Equality: The word “equality” gets thrown around a lot these days. We value equality in our society and most strive to align their lives with this principle to suggests that all people are of not only equal, but infinite value. This doesn’t dictate that all things are necessarily the same. Various people play various roles both in society as well as in the family, but equality suggests that each of those roles are of equal quality and value. Every perspective holds great purpose and worth and is worthy of our acknowledgment and respect. Applying equality in the home means that our children do not become second class citizens in the ecosystem of the home. We can use this principle as a guide in our parenting and pass it to the next generation by applying the following.
- Team up with them to solve problems. As has been suggested in this article, when a problem arises with your children seek for ways to address it from an “us vs. the problem” perspective rather than a “you vs. me” perspective. When the solutions are brainstormed together and plans are made in tandem, the resolutions are more plentiful and relationships grow and blossom.
- Value their input. This is nothing that hasn’t been said but it is much more difficult to apply than it is to talk about. We talk a lot about how important freedom of speech is to us and yet many parents try to silence objection or differing points of view from their own children. Listen to their thoughts. Teach. Learn and grow together as you discuss and think critically in collaboration. Remember that they have thoughts, ideas, desires and feelings just like you. When those are considered, a bond is forged.
- Say I’m sorry and admit your mistakes. Don’t worry, you won’t lose face if you apologize. You won’t lose authority. Most likely, you will gain huge amounts of influence as you say “I’m sorry” when you are wrong. This is a great exercise for parents whenever a problem arises with kids. Chances are that in any confrontation with our kids, we make some mistakes. Look for what yours was and seek for the opportunity to recognize your mistake and your desire to improve it next time. Watch as your child’s defensive walls come crashing down when you are willing to swallow your pride and admit your mistakes and learn from them.
- Teach them about their infinite intrinsic value. Never call them names or degrade them. Recognize their intrinsic, infinite worth. Help them to recognize their greatest strengths and identify statements to remind themselves of their worth when they don’t feel so wonderful. Help them see that no matter what others say, they will always retain their value. Help them to see the same about others.
A beautiful law that helps us effectively implement these values every day is simply stated as, “Do unto others as you would like them to do unto you.” This “golden rule” is a foundation to the principles of freedom, individualism and equality. Just as each of us would want others to treat us with respect and dignity, our children want us to do the same to them.
So as you light up your BBQ and fireworks this 4th of July let it be a reminder of these universal true principles and values of freedom, individuality and equality. Let it guide your life and your parenting. Let it guide how you treat your children and others around you. If we all apply these principles in our homes, with our children, they will expand and grow and fill our society.
Happy 4th of July!