From the time my son was very young, he would beg for either a car or Lego set every time we entered a toy store. Being the strong-willed child that he is, I had to be very firm and remind him firstly, that it was a want and not a need, and secondly, that it was not in our budget.
However, I did make him aware that he could use his own savings to buy it if he really wanted it. I would only relent when it was his birthday, his Eid gift, or when he reached a specific goal.
Over the years, it has become quite normal for him to longingly look at a toy in the store, go home and Google it, watch reviews online, and even pore over advertisements to check if it is on sale. He also meticulously calculates how much more money he needs to save in order to buy the toy. No more toy store tantrums, fortunately.
All parents know the struggle that we face right now – to raise our children in an era that is fast becoming an age of entitlement. Important characteristics like delayed gratification, compassion, responsibility, and empathy, are more difficult to implement today.
Here are 10 ways to nurture your child’s life skills and build their character:
1. Doing household chores
Research from a 75-year long Harvard study found that giving children chores resulted in more successful and independent adults. Children’s self-esteem, competence and sense of belonging increase when they serve their family. Depending on your child’s age, get them to pack away toys, set the table, make their beds, put groceries away, wipe up spills and messes, and weed the garden. (There are loads of age-appropriate task lists available online).
2. Developing listening skills
Younger kids struggle with listening as their attention spans are short. This can be remedied by speaking slowly to your child while maintaining eye contact and using fewer words so the message is received more easily. Make it a habit of asking your child to repeat back to you what you’ve said. This will force your child to focus on what you are saying. The skill of listening is a crucial aspect in your child’s life, especially in early education and their ability to form and sustain friendships.
3. Volunteering time
One of the most effective ways to teach your child compassion is to get them to volunteer their time. You may encounter some fierce resistance when you forcibly remove them from the comfort of their home (and their beloved toys and screens) but the experience they will gain from serving others will leave an indelible mark on their precious hearts.
“Important characteristics like delayed gratification, compassion, responsibility, and empathy, are more difficult to implement today.”
Get your child to help serve a meal in an orphanage, spend an afternoon in an old-age home, collect canned goods or clothing for the needy, sign up for a charity walk, or even help another child at school with their homework.
4. Playing games
Young children struggle with self-regulation, the ability to control their own behaviour and emotions. They find it difficult taking turns, remembering and following rules, being quiet while others are speaking, and losing a game without throwing tantrums. Games such as Hide ‘n Seek, Simon Says, Musical Chairs and Statue, teach them how to self-regulate in a fun and exciting way.
5. Caring for a pet
Having your child care for a pet not only teaches your child many life lessons but is a rich and rewarding experience. They learn responsibility, caring for others’ needs, compassion, trust, respect and unconditional love. If you have a family pet already, entrust the feeding or cleaning up of the pet to your child, depending on their age. Even when your pet passes away, your child will experience deep pain, but this will help them cope with loss.
6. Baking with your child
Asking your child to be patient can be very tricky. A fun way to teach them about waiting, while bonding with them and teaching them a new skill, is to do it together in the kitchen. Choose a favourite family recipe and ask them to make it with you (while practising patience yourself). Remember, it is the effort that counts, and not the spills and mishaps that may occur in the process. If you can set an egg timer while waiting for the baking to get done, your child knows what to expect and can help you clean up.
7. Reading and listening to stories
When you read books to your children, not only does it increase their language skills and improve their concentration, they also learn empathy and their imagination develops. Encourage your children to also speak to their grandparents, aunts, uncles, domestic workers and family friends and ask about their childhood. It does wonders for children to view the world from a different perspective.
No matter how tempted you may be to hand your smartphone to your child to play games while stuck in queues, or in waiting rooms or relatively short car journeys, don’t. Encourage them to distract themselves by playing games like I Spy, reading a book or magazine (even an outdated one in a waiting room) or even encourage them to be bored.
9. Saving for something
Teach your child about finance from the time they’re young by guiding them to save in their piggy banks. As they grow older, take them to the bank and open a savings account. Encourage them to earn money and save towards something that they really want to buy. When they do eventually buy it, they will feel accomplished and value the item that they’ve bought even more.
10. Playing a physical sport
With the high rise of digital media, it is absolutely crucial that our children play a physical sport. Physical sport doesn’t just help your child from a health perspective, but also helps develop important skills such as teamwork, communication, co-operation, problem solving and resilience.