7 Ways to Teach Your Child Life Lessons

Use everyday opportunities to teach your child life's important lessons.
Hoxton / Tom Merton / Hoxton / Getty Images

Homework, extra-curricular activities, and the busyness of daily life leaves little time for families. As time seems to pass by quickly, many parents wonder, “Am I teaching my child all the life lessons he needs to know to grow up to become a responsible adult?”

Movies, social media, and other people may not teach your child the lessons you want him to learn. It’s important to proactively teach your child about issues like relationships, emotions, integrity, spirituality, and other life lessons that will help him live a happy and healthy life.

Here are seven ways to teach your child life lessons:

1. Look for Teachable Moments in Daily Activities

While you can certainly capitalize on life’s major events - like when he’s on a championship team or he experiences his first heartbreak - don’t wait for those major events to teach your child life lessons. Look for opportunities in everyday activities.

When you’re eating lunch, talk about where food comes from and what happens when people can’t afford to buy food. After playing in the park, talk about how some parents have different rules or how children from other cultures wear different clothes. Even taking out the garbage can be a life lesson on taking care of the planet.

2. Use the Media to Your Advantage

You don’t necessarily have to experience everything first-hand in order for your child to learn from it - your child can learn life lessons from media if you take an active role. Pause a TV show or take a break from reading a book to talk about a character’s behavior.

Even video games can turn into conversations about life lessons. Talk about the difference between games and real-life or hold a conversation about the dangers of playing video games for too long. Talk about advertisements too - discuss how products are promoted in magazines and in commercials in a way that entices people to buy them.

3. Engage in Relationship-Building Activities

Not everything needs to be about learning. In fact, if you’re constantly telling your child how to do things ‘right,’ your words will lose effectiveness. So set aside time to just have fun together.

During play time, don’t worry about correcting his imaginative play. Telling him, “The house should be built like this,” or “Elephants aren’t red,” will only squash his imagination.

Keep the focus on having fun and you’ll teach him a lot about healthy relationships from your interactions. The better your relationship, the more your child will value your opinions and insights.

4. Explain the Reasons Behind Your Rules

Give your child an explanation about the reasons behind your rules. While you shouldn’t terrify your child with lengthy explanations about stranger danger or bore him to tears with a lengthy lecture, a brief justification can help your child understand your logic.

So rather than simply saying, “No you can’t ride your bike around the block alone,” say something like, “I’m not going to let you do that yet because I’m afraid you could get hit by a car or you might fall down and get hurt. When you’re a little older and you have had more practice riding your bike, you’ll be allowed to do that.” A short explanation gives your child some added insight into how the world works.

5. Make Discipline About Teaching, Not Punishing

When your child makes mistakes or breaks the rules, focus on teaching him to do better next time. Short-term consequences that will help him learn from his mistakes - like losing his electronics for the day - will be much more effective than harsh punishments - like throwing away all of his toys.

When kids feel harshly punished, they spend their time thinking about how unfair their parents are, instead of focusing on the mistake they made. So it’s important to use their misbehavior as learning opportunities. Teach your child to take responsibility for his mistakes by telling the truth and facing the consequences, and remind him he has an opportunity to do better next time.

6. Address What’s on the Inside Too

Sometimes, it’s easy to get caught up in focusing on a child’s externalized behavior only. But just because a child behaves well doesn’t mean he’s learned a lot of important life lessons. Kids also need to learn life lessons about their emotions and their way of thinking as well.

Teach your child how to recognize and manage his emotions in a socially appropriate manner. Show him healthy ways to cope with uncomfortable feelings, like anger or sadness. Teach him how to be mentally strong so he can deal with whatever problems life throws his way.

Additionally, teach him to recognize times where he may be thinking overly negative or overly positive. Thoughts like, “This will never work,” could cause him to give up easily. But thinking, “This is going to be really easy,” may leave him unprepared for the reality he’s about to face. Talk to him about how to develop a more realistic outlook on life’s situations.

7. Live According to Your Values

What you do has a much bigger impact on your child than what you say. Your child will learn a lot of life lessons based on the way you live your life. The way you treat people, the way you deal with problems, and the way you handle your emotions will send a clear message.

It’s important to make sure you know what your values are so you can clearly live according to those values. Many children grow up without ever really understanding their parents’ values because their parents’ said one thing but did another. Be a good role model every day and strive to show your child how to deal with life’s inevitable challenges.

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