Teaching character and life skills to students

As I started this piece I was thinking of all those times my father and mother both told me I was not living up to my potential.  I thought about how many times even teachers told me that I was wasting good talent.  But I do not remember any of them coming up with a solution – other than just saying to me – You Have To Apply Yourself!  Do you know how empty those words are to a middle school or high school student?  What do you mean “apply yourself”?  Then I would go off about how it was bad teachers or any other excuse that made perfect sense to me.

Now that I am in the other position and past having my own kids that are frustrating me with their lack of effort – I have looked at this subject with much more objectivity and deeper than ever before.  Yes there are things that you can do.  No there is not a single conversation you can have and then everything is fixed. But here are a few steps that should help over the long haul, and yes it can be a long haul.

  1. Look for ways your child is already using perseverance.  It may be saving money for a certain ‘thing’ they want.   Discuss with them the steps they had to take to accomplish that goal and then offer the idea that the same techniques can be used to accomplish other goals.
  2. Do not start with getting straight A’s.  Start small and maybe something that is fun for them.  It may be a finishing a book, building a project or learning a new skill.
  3. Allow the child to choose the goal.  “I want to learn how to ….”  Now you have something that they are excited about and you can help them with planning how to reach the goal.
  4. Be aware and alert to things your child says that will give you the opportunity to teach.  They may say, “I would like to read the most books this summer, or win the science fair, or get a ipod”  Now you have a place to start with setting out steps, an action plan, and a timetable to reach that goal.
  5. Include your children in your own goal setting process.  It may be for accomplishing something around the house, or learning a new skill yourself.  Include them in on how you break down the tasks and make it happen over a period of time.
  6. Be real with them.  If there goal is to learn to play a musical instrument the amount of commitment is different than if there goal is to win the science fair.  Helping them to grasp reality vs. making them believe their goal is impossible is the balance you must make.  Helping them to think it through first will help to keep them from being discouraged when things do not happen as fast as they thought they might.
  7. Celebrate, Celebrate, Celebrate!  When you see them put forth the effort, sticking to their plan, and making progress – be sure to commend them and celebrate the effort!  This will go a long way in keeping them on track and encouraging them to complete other goals in the same manner.
Finally, making goal setting a part of their life is key to working on these steps.  Before the school year starts, begin talking about the goals they have for the year and how they plan on reaching them.  They may be academic goals or social goals, or they may be goals for showing leadership in areas of interest to them.  If your child has been the target of bullies in the past, they may have a goal of standing up to them and being proactive for changing the culture of their school.  You can help them with role-playing and getting them to think of ways they can accomplish their goals. 

I am here to help your child also to take leadership roles, to encourage them and provide help to them.  What if your child was a part of or started a project to help the hungry, stop bullying, provide school supplies or something else that they were interested in.  Balanced Life Skills wants to help them to accomplish their goals too.

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