One of the statements my children used to make that bothered me to know end was “I couldn’t help it!” The implication being that they just had no control over what they did or said and that they were victims of whatever actions or statements came out of their mouths. I think this was such a trigger for me because I have met plenty of adults who still refuse to take responsibility for their own choices and beliefs and who think that they are unable to control things. As a parent, I wanted to teach my children that while plenty of things in this world are out of our control, our beliefs are not one of those things.
Instead of forcing the issues of right and wrong or encouraging black and white thinking, I do think we can teach our children that their actions, thoughts, and belief systems are within their control. Not only can they control and own these things, but they alone get to decide what they say, how they act, and how those belief systems manifest themselves. Even a young child can start to learn that striking out at a sibling in anger was a choice; the sibling did not “make” her strike out or cause the event to happen. The child had all the power in the world to choose not only how she acted, but how she interpreted the situation.
I know that this may seem fairly sophisticated, but it is not. Identifying what is a fact and what is a value or a belief system can start pretty young. Children can be taught to see that every individual in a situation may have a very different perspective of what happened and this will all be based on what they are choosing to see and do. We can also model for our children by accepting responsibility for our choices and our belief systems and talking it through with our kids: “That sure made me angry when that woman took all those items through the 12 and under lane at the store. I believe that people should pay attention to those signs but I also realize that other people feel differently than I do and the check-out clerk sure didn’t seem to mind.”
Also: Family Values Statements