Part 1 - An Overview

Part 1 - An Overview

parents teens

What Are The Most Important Skills To Teach Your Children?

Introduction to Upskilling Your Children

What are the critical skills that we would want our children to carry with them into later life? How do I help my children form good habits? How important is a routine in developing positive character traits? The goal of this article series is to answer these and other related questions. I will discuss the process of forming habits and explore simple rules that make it easier for parents and teachers. A 'catch them when they're good' is fine to a point, but we need to 'catch them when they're bad' also.

This series of articles is a companion to the Child Training Toolbox series, and it would be useful to read them together. Each set of items complements the other, giving a broader understanding of the skills and pitfalls that face parents and teachers.

Knowing how complicated and varied are the approaches to managing behaviour, I know many will disagree with my overall strategy. My practice is to draw concepts and processes from my experience and research that I have found helpful. Some of my conclusions may be politically incorrect. Who is to say that anything is, or is not,  politically correct? Often it's a noisy minority group. I know that different schemes have been successful in improving behaviour, but they usually have a thread of shared understandings, methods and principles.

If taken seriously, the facts dealing with behaviour management described on my site have an excellent chance of bringing the following benefits to your home or classroom:

  • Time saved
  • Respect and obedience dominate
  • Lowered stress levels
  • Closer relationships
  • A happier atmosphere
  • Increase in productivity
  • Safe havens established
  • Growth in positive character traits
  • More security for parents, teachers and students


  • Respond immediately they are spoken to and listen to what you have to say?
  • Get out of bed when asked?
  • Go to bed at the designated time without being asked?
  • Keep their room tidy?
  • Not argue with you?
  • Look after their pet without being told?
  • Remain cheerful and not get cranky when asked to do something
  • Eat meals without making a mess?
  • Not fight with their siblings?
  • Not throw tantrums?
  • Eat food they do not initially like?
  • Be ready to go to school on time?
  • Take the initiative to clean their teeth, wash their face and bomb/brush their hair?
  • Play without making enough noise to annoy the neighbours in the next block?

You could probably add quite a lot more to the above list. Imagine the kind of atmosphere a home would have if the list of items were carried out by the children on a regular basis? There are homes where this kind of behaviour is par for the course. I will acknowledge that some parents and teachers are at an advantage in these areas because of there upbringing,  training, experience and temperament. In future articles, we will look at these kinds of questions and see what can be done to help.

Not at all! If we are to prepare our children to survive, all by themselves in the grown-up world, we will have to teach them how to handle negative experiences and their negative character traits.  I would like you to ponder these rhetorical questions?

  • Will a child develop resourcefulness and resilience unless they experience frustration?
  • Will a child learn patience unless they have to wait?
  • Will a child learn responsibility unless they have regular chores to do?
  • Will a child be able to empathise with others unless they experience pain and suffering?
  • Will a child become generous unless they learn to give?
  • Will a child want to grow in positive attributes if they regularly hear they are good enough already?
  • Will a child grow in positives if we ignore the negatives, pretending they don't exist?

I believe the answer to all the questions above is, no. There are positive and negative road rules we need to learn before we get our driver's licence. The same goes for training a dog, paying tax, buying a property, finding a life partner, holding a job and health principles. If we only focus on the positives and ignore the negatives, we will end up in strife. To survive in real life, we need to get a handle on contrary rules. The sooner children learn that, the better. It is imperative that children go through adverse experiences in life, e.g. difficulties, frustrations, disappointments, loss, embarrassment pain and the like. We learn how to ride a bike by falling off and hurting ourselves. A baby learns to walk by falling over and hitting its head on the furniture.

Are we preparing our children to survive? Have you ever wondered how many things you have learned in life because of the pain you experienced? Many rules we learned to follow without having anyone say anything to us. Here are some negative rules I learned 'all by myself' through suffering, embarrassment or pain:

  • When the school bully walks by you and punches you on the arm, don't hit him back!
  • Don't run in long grass without shoes on!
  • Don't take the radiator cap off if the car is boiling!
  • Don't trust your brother when he asks you to hold the spark plug lead while he kicks over a motorbike engine!
  • Don't agree with the girl you are dating when she says she is fat!
  • Don't show off in front of your friends when you are riding a bicycle.
  • Don't play with bees in the backyard!
  • Don't drill holes in a timber bearer under the house before looking to see if there was a live electrical cable on the other side!
  • Don't lean your weight against the top part of a long ladder that is leaning on the gutter that is three metres above the ground!
  • Don't play with matches near the dead vine on dad's old, timber garage!
  • Don't let dad find out you stole two sticks of chalk from school!
  • Don't eat too much at church smorgasbord luncheons! ( I'm still learning that one.)
  • Don't take a wrong turn when alone at night, and not knowing the language, you are trying to find your way back from a restaurant in Hiroshima, Japan to your son's apartment three blocks away!

Most of the rules above I learned straight away, I didn't have to practice, nor did someone have to remind me after that. However, some rules are hard to keep, especially when one is young. The aim of proper training is for children to form habits of obeying the rules as soon as possible. This way obeying becomes the natural and automatic thing to do, and parents don't need to be 'at' them all the time.

If we are not proactive in guiding our children to form good habits, they will generally build bad ones. Keep in mind that some children have a compliant disposition, while others are almost uncontrollable, no matter what methods we use. But the same goal applies, the development of good habits. How do we form habits? Once we learn this, we can 'reform' undesirable habits. Let me illustrate with a diagram.

  1. A particular type of event occurs.
  2. Our experience and mindset determine the kind of thoughts we have about the event.
  3. These thoughts produce an emotional response reflected in our feelings.
  4. The kinds of feelings we have will influence the actions we take.
  5. Habits form when we consistently repeat the same negative or positive emotional response.
  6. Indulge the habit, and it will form part of our character.

The most important thing to note is that the type of thoughts we have about events in life will have an impact on our character, one way or the other. The consistency of response from authority figures is necessary for habits to form. Therefore it is required that parents and teacher's reactions to children are predictable. The sameness of these responses gives the children security, even if the children are not happy with these responses. It is likely, then, that repetition over time will lead to acceptance and submission. A child will stop pestering for ice-cream when eventually they realise they will never get one. But if the parents give in only once, the child then knows there is a possibility, no matter how unlikely, that they can talk the parents into relenting, and they can become even more determined.

I will not detail here the many benefits resulting from having routines. At this point, I will only say that a routine helps enormously with establishing habits.

If books, television programs, computer games, videos, songs and the theatre, portray behavioural patterns that are the opposite of what you are trying to teach your child, how much harder will it be for them to form good habits? When it appears to the child that the adults condone such undesirable behaviours, do you think it will be easy for the youngster to develop positive character traits?

We tend to break down the rules into a thousand pieces, giving children opportunities to argue the point or say, "I forgot." A wise person said, "Rules should be few, but strictly enforced." Within the context, by 'strictly' the writer did not mean unkind, aggressive or dictatorial, they meant consistent. So I pondered the issue and came up with three fundamental rules that children can remember:

  1. Show respect for yourself and others.
  2. Show respect for property.
  3. Be obedient to the correct people.

Decide beforehand how you are going to deal with misdemeanours and what the consequences will be. If the child is old enough, warn them of what the results will be of making poor choices, and what the rewards will be for well-doing.

As this article series deals with the specifics of upskilling children, the understandings detailed above will be necessary and appropriate to consider. One size fits all! Each skill has its 'personality', but the same principles apply across the board.


Richard Warden 


Next Article in this Article Series: Part 2 - Attending & Responding

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