I always loved school. I loved learning. I loved reading. I loved everything about it. I even loved most of my teachers. I became a teacher because of them. But as a student, I focused on my grades and waited for every report card, celebrated every award and medal and thought excellence was the PEAK of all that -- the highest grades, the most awards.
The years, however, have a way of changing your views. Some experiences touch your heart in a way that high grades and the success do not. Being a teacher has taught me so much about what matters, and being a parent kind of sealed all that!
It is not about the grades nor the IQ that measure one’s success.
I can say the above now with my head held high, and with sureness in my voice that my youth did not allow. To put it simply, it is about emotional quotient (EQ) and character that define a person’s success in this world.
My almost 10-year old son has been my guinea pig all these years. (The beautiful thing about having your children is you can “experiment” with them and “test your theories” without getting into trouble.) At home, we placed a bigger emphasis on feelings, on character and on being good than being brilliant and successful academically.
In preschool, my son was lucky enough to attend our school that valued a child’s emotional intelligence above everything else. We consistently gave the children a vocabulary for feelings and encouraged them to use it. We empowered them, through example, to have empathy for the feelings of others. At a young age, it was important for us to teach them to read the emotions on other children’s faces, accept them and learn how to try to make things better. We wanted them to be proactively good and positive. A by-product of all that was the self-confidence and self-assurance that allowed them to succeed even academically. But that was not the priority.
My older son eventually graduated from our preschool, and we chose a school that focused on character and virtues. We felt we had hit the jackpot because it is true that it takes an entire village, a whole community to raise a child. We knew that we could not do this alone. This school placed great importance on the habits that make a human being good. Throughout the year, they focused on virtues such as Order, Study, Faith, Hard Work, Charity, Generosity, Obedience, Self-discipline, Truthfulness, and Fortitude.
As a result of focusing on character and virtues, my son excelled in school as well but was always more proud of a virtue award than an honors certificate. We spent summers helping our boys get in touch with themselves. We tried hard to connect even if they would rather be on the Internet where there is instant gratification, and everything moves so fast. We practiced a kind of deliberate parenting where we planned activities or set up situations where we feel they will gain the most emotionally and spiritually.
We are not always successful, but we always try our best to persevere because it matters to us, and we know it will matter to them later on. If we fail today, we apologize, and we try again tomorrow, hoping that our sons learn that there are always second chances and there is always tomorrow to try again.
To summarize this teacher mama’s thoughts, here are a few tips to take to heart so that we can help the world by raising more children who care about being good than being smart.
1. Get your kids involved. Inspire them to CARE! Every time there is a big storm and relief is needed, we try to do our share as a family, whether it's starting a soup kitchen or packing relief goods. We hope to instill in the boys that to not do anything about it should make them uncomfortable.
2. Allow them a lot of down time.It allows them to get in touch with what is inside and to connect with themselves. It has incredible benefits for self-regulation, your children become mindful, and it helps their overall well-being.
We placed a bigger emphasis on feelings, on character and on being good.
3. Make it a tradition to GIVE and help our less-fortunate brothers and sisters out. A good way to practice this is every Christmas when everyone is focused on receiving. Raise your children, so they are uncomfortable with letting the holidays pass without doing something for others.
Last Christmas, we all got into our van and gave out prepared meals to the security guards on duty in our village and nearby. One Christmas, we scooped lugaw from a huge kaldero and gave them out to people in the streets. It made waiting around for a gift-filled Christmas morning much more meaningful and memorable.
4. Make a habit to catch your children doing something right, instead of focusing on what they did wrong. Words of praise fill a child’s emotional tank. It gives them a “language of positivity” that they will pay forward to others. Trust me. It amazes me sometimes when I hear what comes out of my son’s mouth.
5. Read social stories that focus on virtues and character to them. Children learn best through them and your example.
6. Use your summer vacations to “home school” them about caring for others and staying positive. When they are disconnected from the Internet, they can focus more on what’s out there and the importance of human relationships. Begin with your relationship as a family. When a child comes from a good place, it is much easier for him to plant and sow that good feeling elsewhere
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7. TALK. Have conversations. Connect. Be your child’s champion, his superhero, her listening ear, his shoulder to cry on so that he or she can be that for someone else later on.
8. Take breaks. Take care of yourself and fill YOUR emotional bank so that you can be better at doing all of this for your children.
9. Be generous with your praises, your hugs, your kisses. They teach your kids what it feels like to be loved and to love.
10. Make an effort to expose your kids to all kinds of people and different environments so that they can practice their flexibility with people and situations. The more you immerse them in the needs of others, the less-entitled they become.
11. Make them work for things they want instead of making it easy for them just to have it. We had our older son work as a volunteer in a class of children with special needs one summer to “earn” his gadget time.
12. Get out of the city. Commune with nature. Nothing puts you in touch with God like being outdoors, away from the noise and with not much to do. There, allow them to get bored because that is when they find their most creative, reflective and curious selves.
Michelle Lichauco-Tambunting, a son-rise mom to Luis (who has special needs) and Paco, obtained her Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology from Wellesley College in Massachusetts, U.S., and her master’s degree in education from Harvard University. She co-founded the Young Creative Minds Preschool in 1999 where she continues to serve as its directress.