Recently, some political commentators have called for a return to more civil discourse. And it’s a valid concern; there’s a need for civility in many areas of our culture — more courtesy and respect in our actions and our speech.
Civil behavior shows respect for others and regard for their opinions and feelings. It allows one to discuss issues and even disagree without being malicious toward another person or group of people.
In short, civility is an outward expression of the value one places on other people. The greater value you place on individuals, the more civil your actions towards them. Looking at much of the behavior in the culture around us, we can all see a need for more civility — in children and adults. What was once thought of as “common courtesy” isn’t so common any more.
Children develop their values early on, and parents — especially fathers — have a significant role in teaching their children values. Our research shows that intentionally sharing and modeling one’s values is a key characteristic of an effective father. So, dad, how can you nurture civility in your kids — and other children in your sphere of influence? Here are a few suggestions:
1. Praise it when you see it. When your child selflessly shovels snow for a neighbor or lets his sister have what she wants first, make a big deal out of recognizing him for it. Praise him. Reward him. Encourage him to keep doing it.
2. Plan intentional activities with your children so they can experience the joy of helping others. Always ask who around you needs help and how your family can assist. Pursue thought patterns and habits that plan and perform intentional acts of kindness for others, so it soon becomes natural for your kids to see a need (or even anticipate a need) and take action to help. In daily conversations, encourage them to think about how others may see things, and talk through ways to address conflicts in a positive way, without getting angry or causing hurt feelings.
3. Hold them accountable. Your children need to know that Dad has high expectations for them and he’s going to confront them about inappropriate actions. It isn’t the most enjoyable part of being a father, but correcting our children — in love — is very important for them.
4. Demonstrate civility yourself. Are you respectful, considerate, well-mannered, under control, and able to deal gracefully with people who disagree with you? Do you hold the door open for the person entering a restaurant behind you? How do you behave behind the wheel in a traffic jam? Watching you may be the most powerful way your children will soak in and embrace these values.
- Be willing to set an example of humility for your family members. When you are insensitive or off track, have the courage to admit your mistakes and seek their forgiveness.
- Insist that your kids pick up after themselves — at home and in public, like returning a grocery cart to where it belongs, picking up their trash at a sports event, etc.
- Challenge your child to befriend kids at school who have special needs or who may not be “popular” for other reasons.
- Have your children “practice” meeting someone new — shaking hands firmly, looking the person in the eye, using his/her name, speaking respectfully, etc.
- Volunteer with your children to serve at a senior care facility.