… from the bungalow

The Golden Rule of Parenting


Or: Treating Others the Way You’d Have Them Treat… Others?

Make a kid feel powerless and he’ll try to regain power by taking it from someone else. How do you empower a kindergartner and instill in him the intrinsic motivation to “do the right thing?”

I posted this as my status on Facebook and got a few good responses. Mike, a friend of mine who never fails to provide challenging dialogue, had this (in part) to say:

The motivation to do “the right thing” is not intrinsic as “The right thing” is subject to mores and values of a culture. I don’t know jack about kindergartners but it looks like you’re getting some decent advice.

Walk the line between showing patience and being a push over. Walk the line between being strict and being overbearing. Nobody bats .1000 in this game. Just be you and the kid will pick up what’s right. Hold yourself accountable and they may learn to do the same thing. Show patience and kindness and they may learn to do the same thing. The sad part is that you got some undoing to do, but don’t worry about that so much. Meet them where they are be as honest as you can.

What follows is a (slightly) more polished version of my thought process/response.

Perhaps I worded it the wrong way. “The right thing” carries a feeling of “socially acceptable.” What I mean to say is, how can you guide a child toward a more altruistic way of life? Some would argue that there is no such thing as true altruism, since all good deeds have selfish rewards (even if it’s just that warm, fuzzy feeling). Personally, I think that’s taking it a bit too far. We have physiological responses to the things we think and do for a reason.

But at the same time, I don’t want him to feel more loved for “making good choices” or less loved for “being mean.” I want him to feel equally loved always, no matter what. Does that mean I let him get away with things that hurt others? No way.

I can see a trend, though. There’s an underlying fear that drives kids to do mean things. Fear of not having enough, fear of missing out, etc. OK… so let’s counter-act the fear. Love. Safety. These things take time, and can be learned by example. I get that.

But what about the immediate, right-here, right-now consequences? If I let the kids get into a name-calling match and start beating each other up in the name of natural consequences, they’ll only feel more like no one cares about what they do or how they treat others, right? Shouldn’t they know that they are not isolated individuals, free to do as they please? Oh, but wait… They are, to an extent. Dilemma.

Last night I tried to tell him the Zen story that Mike shared a few days ago. Much of it’s lost on a 5-year-old. But I’m trying to reiterate to him as much as possible that it is unnecessary and “not OK” to be mean to someone who was mean to you first. Regardless of others’ choices, it feels good to take the highest ground possible, appropriate to the situation, by choosing to be caring and kind. And it is a choice; one that takes practice… Ah, there it is! Good advice for myself, right there.

I will practice making the choice to be caring and kind with my children in all situations. I will choose my thoughts and words carefully in those moments of name-calling and fighting.

In other words, I’ll do the things I want to teach him. I’ll be the example of the kind of person I want him to be. Not between those tricky moments, but in those moments. Well, heck, that was easy…

It starts with me.

It took “thinking out loud” to come to this realization. What is it they say about truth? You can’t teach it; you can only help someone discover it. Thanks for the help, friends. I’m humbled again.

Parenting from the bungalow,



Author: Chris

Introspection to a fault. College administrator, parent, soapmaker.

3 thoughts on “The Golden Rule of Parenting

  1. Beautifully written, love. I am lucky to have you as a partner and the boys are lucky to have you as a dad and step-dad. Thanks for being so thoughtful and caring. We’ll make it and the kids will be great. 🙂

  2. This realization seems to be farther than most of today’s parents seem to be willing to go. I have faith that you’ll have a great influence on the boys, Chris, because it’s true, children learn important things from watching their parents handle themselves… things that they don’t learn from the way they are treated BY their parents. Being the best example you can be is a good way to lead them toward the path of kindness, understanding, and patience. I’m sure you’ll do wonderfully. 🙂

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