1. Relational Skills
As parents, it is important to model good relational skills, both with your spouse and with others. It is good to know the different kinds of friendships (pleasure, utility, and virtuous) which I discuss here.
When speaking to our children, we should practice active listening. These are skills I help children and adults with in therapy to help them develop better interpersonal communication skills.
Active listening requires listening with all the senses, giving full attention to the other. To do this, you must empathize with them, be attentive, show understanding with verbal and nonverbal behavior (facial expressions, posture), reflect back using your own words, ask open ending questions. Offer positive and constructive feedback. Teach them the joy of self donative service to others. Children learn by example. When we are attentive, they will learn how to understand and manage their own emotions and read other people and use them prudently and empathetically in their interpersonal relationships. That is the essence of emotional and interpersonal intelligence.
2. Help Them See the Good
We model this by validating and finding the kernel of truth in another person's or our children's perspective. I do this when my children come home complaining of something someone said or did at school, whether it is a friend or a teacher. We help our children see that the other person may have emotions, thoughts or behaviors that have legitimate causes and, therefore, understandable (as adults we need this more than ever in our current political climate in regards to our political foes). It allows our children to improve their relationship skills because they are more apt to listen and understand where others are coming from. It removes the pressure for them to have to be right. It helps with lessening negative reactivity and anger. It is important to remember that every invalid response makes sense in some way; however, validation is not the same thing as agreeing and that you only have to validate the valid (facts of the situation, experiences, feelings/emotions, opinions), not what is actually invalid.
On a side note, when studying logic, you are taught that all disagreements have some agreement on a more basic level. You take that common premise and extend it out to a conclusion that has not yet been considered. Comes in handy as a child therapist!
3. Accepting Responsibility
It is important for our children to learn from their mistakes and they cannot do this if they do not accept responsibility for those mistakes. It teaches our children the value of humility and not to wallow in their pride. They learn to accept apologies and not to hold onto grudges. Accepting responsibility also entails children knowing their responsibilities. They are not only responsible for daily chores but the person. Responsibility for self and others can only be understood by one who has a complete awareness of the value of the person. Being responsible for self and others is never unpleasant because it is an enrichment and a broadening of the human being. Only a person who is free can be accountable or take responsibility; thus responsibility is part of what it means to be free.
4. Teach Them to be Charitable
When we help our children with this virtue, they will learn to be of service to their community's greater good, giving them a higher (everlasting) sense of purpose. Ultimately they will live a more psychologically and spiritually healthy life because they are putting heavenly things first and getting earthy things at their best. What better way than to help them live a fulfilled, happy life than fostering this virtue?
When we fail to foster this virtue, we end up with kids who grow up with a sense of entitlement. They develop a lack of concern for others, and their wants and whims become the center of everything, and ultimately they live a life of sorrow because it is difficult to find joy when you are the center of the universe.
I discuss more about this virtue here. In essence, we want our children to experience adversity. As much as we try to shield them from adversity, we forget manageable adversity forms good character and helps them learn how to empathize with others. It helps them see the need of others. In essence charity brings about far more enduring happiness than any self-centered pleasures.
5. Be An Independent Learner
Give your children the opportunity and freedom to explore the unknown, mysterious wild world. There is certainly no better way for your child to learn and play than to experience the world on their own. Through exploration and play, they discover how things work and operate. Exploration is essential for them to make sense of the world around them as it helps them develop their creative skills. This is the essence of spatial intelligence; logical, and body-kinesthetic intelligence.
As parents we often prohibit exploration and creative play which naturally stems from boredom and idleness. Let your kids be bored…outside. When we give our kids toys and activities it stiffens their creative abilities. Never is this more prominent than the new common trend to schedule events at kids’ birthday parties. What happened to the good old birthday parties where kids just played in the back yard while parents socialized? Parents now are completely involved in these parties with scheduled activities. Believe me kids will find imaginative and creative ways to keep themselves busy. They do not need our help. It never ceases to amaze me, some time after Christmas (usually hours) the kids will play more with rocks and sticks than their own toys we spent good money on.
As a mental health counselor and father I deem these things most essential in developing excellent well-rounded children. It will go a long way towards their own mental health!