BEYOND THE TEXTBOOK
It seems as if the lessons that stick with most people are the ones that don’t involve planning or worksheets. I have forgotten the capitals of most states, but I vividly remember the warmth my third-grade teacher taught me to show with a smile. It often works the same outside the classroom. Parents spend hours teaching their children right from wrong and later end up consoling their children when they learn the hard way. However, there are some lessons to which children pay the utmost attention. Parents teach these lessons unintentionally through their comments, actions, and reactions to others. Reflect upon the questions below to determine what you are teaching your children.

How do you spend your time?

What you do with your 24 hours tells a lot about what you value. Therefore, if you emphasize the importance of family but rarely spend quality time with your spouse and children, you are contradicting what you preach. We spend our time on things that are important to us. So ask yourself, “What is important to me?” Then, for the next seven days observe what you do with your time. Note the number of hours you spend at work and list the activities in which you participate outside of work. If the way you spend your time does not uphold what you value, change what you do to show who and what you love. For example, spend more time talking with your kids and caring for your parents if you believe family comes first. Then you will be a living example of the values that you want your children to incorporate into their own lives.

How do you handle anger?

Anger is an intense feeling that, if handled appropriately, can lead to emotional maturity and a more just society. However, many individuals bury their anger or take it out on others. When you handle your anger by covering it up or yelling, you teach your child to do the same. Show your child more appropriate ways to handle anger by taking a time-out when you are upset or breathing deeply when you feel like screaming. Show your children that you have power over your own emotions, so they can feel better able to take control of theirs.

How do you treat those who harm you?

We can watch the news to discover how our children treat those who harm them. Violence among African-American youth is rampant. In underserved areas it seems as if “an eye for an eye” is the common way of handling conflict. But where did our children learn this? Think about how you handle people who mistreat you in your day-to-day. Do you raise your middle finger at the driver who cuts you off in traffic? Do you slam the phone down on bill collectors who call you at inconvenient times? Your children observe your reactions to others. If you tend to handle conflicts aggressively, your children will add those strategies to their conflict-resolution toolboxes as well. You can’t expect your child to walk away from a conflict if you have never shown them how. Therefore, show your children how to treat others kindly and respectfully through your actions.

How do you act toward those who are different?

As a Baptist Christian, what do you do when a Jehovah’s Witness shows up at your door? When your children notice a family with two daddies, how do you react? Your reactions to those who are different can be life-lessons about tolerance. You may teach your son not to hit girls, but if you chuckle at same-sex couples, you are giving your child a distorted view of acceptance. Remember, accepting differences does not mean smiling in a person’s face and laughing behind his back. Being tolerant means taking off the cap of judgment and putting on a cloak of reverence for each unique individual. That is one of the hardest lessons to teach a child, but it can be more readily understood when they have people who do it living within their home.

When you become a parent, you also become a teacher. Whether or not you have a degree in education or have worked in a classroom, you are feeding knowledge to your children every day. Through your actions and words, you teach your child social skills that they will use for the rest of their lives. Knowing this, please live a more responsible life so that your children can learn to be more responsible adults.

China Hill is a teacher at KIPP Ascend Charter School on the West Side.