Teaching a child right from wrong is one of parenting’s biggest challenges. After all, is it not human nature to fire back when you feel you’ve been wronged? Kids scream and hit when they don’t get their way; they take what the other kid is playing with without asking or even caring about how the kid feels; and when directly confronted about doing something wrong, they lie right to your face. These are also examples of how Donald Trump, our 71-year-old president, chooses to act.
As a new parent, how am I supposed to teach my child to be a decent human being when their first president is also their first example of a bully? Come to think of it: Trump will be a role model in our house — a role model for exactly the kind of person we shouldn’t strive to be. Below are the top three lessons I have prepared for my child, inspired by the 45th President of the United States. But these are far from the only ones… believe me.
Lesson No. 1: Treat people with respect
The level of disrespect our current president has for several major groups of individuals is staggering. He’s mocked a disabled reporter on live television; he moved to ban LGBTQ+ individuals from serving in the military; and more than a dozen women have accused him of sexual harassment only to be called liars by the White House.
Respect is a learned skill. When a child is young, they act on impulse to achieve gains, whether physically (pushing a peer out of the lunch line to get the last cookie themselves) or mentally (making fun of someone’s disability to make themselves feel better or appear “cooler” to their friends). This type of behavior starts young, so the sooner it’s corrected, the better.
My husband Joe and I know this from personal experience. When Joe was 5, his dad caught him and a friend teasing a family member who has Down syndrome. It’s easy to say Joe was too young to know the harm he was causing but at that age, any little offense is enough for a teaching moment. Joe’s dad explained how making fun of people isn’t allowed and reminded him that we’re all equally valuable.
Did the lesson stick? At the time, no. Joe continued his taunting, his friend was immediately sent home and Joe was put into time out. There was no three-strikes-you’re-out policy. There was no lack of follow-through. You either showed respect for this individual or there will be consequences. That lesson has resonated with Joe so strongly that this idea of universal acceptance is high on his list of necessary life lessons to teach our child.
Our child will grow up understanding that differences can include physical and mental disabilities but also race, gender, religion and other elements of a person’s life. The world is wonderful for the exact reason that each individual is unique. Our differences are beautiful and should be a reason for further respect, not for alienation or mocking.
Lesson No. 2: Don’t make empty promises
Does anyone remember student council elections? The students running were encouraged to build a platform and campaign, just like real politicians. And just like real politicians, there was always that one student — the class clown — who centered their campaign around delivering the undeliverable: pizza every day for lunch.
But did the sacred comfort food of the gods ever actually make it to the daily menu? Of course not.
False promises are just sweetly delivered lies with a longer incubation period. There’s nothing worse than a liar. They may get ahead for a while — which is appealing for any child faced with the option of doing the work versus selling false promises — but in the end, they have to live with the consequences.
Thankfully, as many parents can attest, children’s first lies are often easy to recognize and usually pretty innocent.
Did you finish your milk? You did? Then why is there still some left in your cup?
These lies may seem inconsequential; some parents may even be bothered by me using such a strong word as “lie” to describe this kind of interaction. But even something as small as getting away with leftover milk can reinforce a child’s desire to lie again.
Take Trump’s version of a “pizza every day” promise. Will Mexico ever pay for a new border wall between the U.S. and Mexico? Probably not, and Trump supporters who voted for him because of his promise to build such a wall are beginning to realize that they’ve been had. Trump strategically built his campaign on this and countless other false promises and as a result, he got exactly what he wanted: power.
So instead of ignoring your child’s lie and dumping the milk down the drain, which enforces the notion that lies are acceptable, address it head on. Tell them to be honest. Encourage them to put their cup in the fridge for later. A quick and simple interaction like this can mean more honesty in the future when it’ll matter most.
Lesson No. 3: Always stay humble
There’s nothing wrong with praising your child for a job well done. If they’ve worked hard at that piano solo or science project, they should be acknowledged and congratulated. However, while praise is important, so are the lessons that everything can be improved and that it’s important to acknowledge others’ hard work.
You did an amazing job on your solo, honey! Did the judges write any notes for you? Also, I heard that Laura did an excellent job. We should go congratulate her as well.
Trump, in contrast, speaks only of himself. He gives himself as much praise as he can as often as he can, even going so far as to attack others who don’t agree with his assertions (#fakenews).
As one small example of many, Trump’s recent explanation for the defeat of ISIS in Raqqa was “because you didn’t have Trump as president” before. He claims to have “totally changed our military” to allow for such success. If he ever mentioned the military men and women directly responsible for the action itself, it was fleeting before being steamrolled once again with reasons why he should be praised.
I know many parents who were devastated by the results of this election and continue to fear the questions their kids will ask about Trump — myself included! But instead of trying to shield our children, let’s use his terrible behavior as teaching moments and do what matters most: Raise a better generation.