Changing the World by Raising Good Citizens

This post was written in July of 2013 for Parentmap


When I think about the word “citizenship,” I think about how people contribute as a member of a group. The first group our children belong to is the family, and this is the safest place for them to learn and practice the skills necessary to be a good citizen.  Children today will grow to be our neighbors, our leaders, the innovators of tomorrow, so what we do RIGHT NOW as parents to cultivate citizenship in our children represents a powerful opportunity to influence our future society.

No pressure, right?

I imagine that much of the parenting we do today moves us in the direction of that goal of growing good citizens.  But can we do better?  Always.

Think for a moment about the traits that define a good citizen.  My guess is that phrases and attributes like good listener, good communicator, problem solver, solution finder, respectful of differences, ability to see others’ perspectives, creative, inclusive, good work ethic, kind and compassionate come to mind.  We could add so many more to the list.

Our kids learn from us, by our model and from how we treat them and others — much of our parenting flows from the example that was modeled for us.  The days of superior vs. inferior relationships are slowly changing.  The world will be different for our children and we must grant them space to learn the skills they need to be the citizens of tomorrow.

Societies all over the world are standing up and demanding equal dignity and respect.  And this assertion is messy.  Those in power are feeling very uncomfortable and pushing back.  There are very few models of this new vision that is being fought for.  Our kids will be citizens in this new community and workplace paradigm, so it is up to us to prepare them.

How do we do this?

Model effective modes of communication.

Model, practice and coach your kids while they attempt to solve the everyday challenges that come up within the family or their peer group.  Create space for all perspectives to be heard and honored. Understand that we don’t act our best when we feel bad.  Give them words to use to address conflicts effectively.  Wait until all involved are calm before addressing problems, and communicate why this is important.

Practice the art of finding solutions.

It is time to shift our focus from finding the right consequence or punishment when our kids make mistakes and start looking for solutions.  This shift creates space for our kids to learn and practice critical skills.  When we do this, kids actually learn from their mistakes and have tools for moving forward.  In Positive Discipline, we define solutions as related, reasonable, respectful and helpful.

Hold regular family meetings.

The most powerful thing you can do for your family is hold regular family meetings.Within this experience, children learn all the skills they need for being a good citizen.  Our family meetings happen every week and begin with a round of compliments for everyone in the family.  We then move into problem solving, with all members having a chance to share, and finally looking for solutions to the problem being addressed.  Listening skills are modeled and practiced, contributions and ideas are expected and values shared.  Solutions are drafted and then implemented.  This democratic process has been the glue that holds our household together!

Every time we can broaden our perspective, look past the behavior that is driving us crazy right now, and think about how the situation may be an opportunity to model, teach or practice a skill that will lead our kids in the direction of being “good citizens,” we are a part of changing the world.

And what a world it will be!