Raising Great Adults – 4 Lessons Parents Must Teach

I’m a lucky parent. Both of our children (now adults) are healthy, independent, successful, happily married and responsible. I like to think that some of the things I did while raising them helped them reach that state. Today, I share with you my thoughts on 4 fundamental things parents should teach their children so that they grow into great adults.

Adults understand that with freedom comes responsibility.

Parenting is an exercise in letting go, from birth until death. At each stage of life a good parent grant’s more freedom to their child – freedom for the toddler to take that first step, freedom for the young child to leave the yard to play with friends, freedom for the teen to drive and freedom of the adult child to partake of the American liberties. But at each stage, before the freedom is granted, a parent must ensure that the child understands the responsibility that goes along with the freedom.


Establish and uphold expectations. Let your child hear, see and practice meeting expectations that you set. What behavior is acceptable at the store? What boundaries are needed to leave the yard? A child will live up to what you expect, if you tell them, show them and help them practice.

We recently took our 10 year old grandson on a road trip to see Colonial Williamsburg. We gave him $40 to spend, with the expectation that he track it, and not request additional items or money from us. His Mom did not think he was old enough to handle keeping his money in his wallet and tracking the wallet. Indeed, on the very first day touring Williamsburg, he lost his wallet. My spouse and grandson filed a lost report without much hope of recovering the wallet, but alas the wallet was actually found and turned in! Our grandson was again entrusted and expected to track his wallet and handle his own money – and he did so successfully for the remainder of the trip. Our frequent ‘wallet checks’ (during which we all checked our pockets and pocketbooks to make sure we had our valuables) helped teach him how.

Model good citizenship. Show and tell them how each family generation has contributed to America’s independence and each citizen’s individual freedom of expression and from oppression. Set the expectation that their turn is coming to uphold our country’s freedom.

Tell the stories of family members who served in the various wars. Pass along information about how those at home fought, demonstrated, spoke and acted for their liberties.

Take your child along when you vote (you do vote???) and tell them what you are doing and why. Share the causes with which you are involved and show how your involvement makes a difference in society or in someone’s life. Help your child contribute to the community beyond your home in a fashion that makes sense to your child.

Adults should be self sufficient and independent.

Most parents have children with the expectation that the kids will grow up, leave the nest and strike out on their own. American’s extol the virtues of “standing on your own two feet” and of being “ruggedly individualistic”.

Many seek financial independence. Those who find it through their own efforts are admired as self-made millionaires (or billionaires). Many rags to riches stories denote folk heroes. Families with generational wealth worry that their children won’t learn self-sufficiency and will be dependent on the efforts and results of prior family members – becoming trust fund babies and lacking the ability to care for themselves financially.


Model independence. Support yourself, do your own chores, hold down a job and etc.

Discuss independence. Tell stories which share consequences of not being self sufficient. Set expectations early and often that your child will grow up to be a productive and self sufficient individual. Show them possible avenues to earn a living and help them explore ones in which they show interest.

But most of all, let your children suffer the consequences of their own decisions and actions. Don’t bail them out. Don’t do things for them when you have set the expectation that they do it themselves. It is tempting – when you are in a hurry, when the child is resisting task completion, when others are looking askance at you for demanding that your child do it them self. My adult son has been setting the expectation that his daughter buckle her own safety belt when riding in the car – since she was 4 (she is now 5). I have watched several times as she threw fits, insisting that she couldn’t get the job done – resisting. Each time he encouraged her to complete the task, riding out the tantrum until she snapped the buckle into place.

Children usually have a natural inclination to ‘do it myself’ – especially when they are toddlers. Encourage this.

Teach the skills needed to become independent. Parents need a lot of patience to teach their children how to do age appropriate things. It is always easier for the parent to just do it themselves. It takes time and effort to learn a new skill – whether it is buckling the car safety belt or managing their own money. Teach in age appropriate steps, giving your child more and more skills so they can take on more and more responsibility.

The basic concept of financial independence involves many different skills and much knowledge accumulation. One high school personal finance class won’t get your child there. Start teaching the basics – trading money for goods, learning about coins and bills, seeing the market place (aka grocery store) in action. Model responsible financial behavior and share (at age appropriate levels), your own budget, savings plan, investing, career goals hopes and dreams, loans and bills. Kids need to understand that it costs money to live and that they will be expected to get that money for them self some day.

Adults have respect.

Responsible adults have respect for themselves, for family members, for friends and acquaintances, for strangers and for society and its laws.

Children must learn how to respect, they aren’t born knowing.


Model respectful behavior.  Every word and action (or inaction) of yours shows your child your respect (or lack of it).  Be courteous, show gratitude to those who favor you, abide by the laws of society, working to abolish those which don’t make sense in a responsible manner.

Require your child to respect you, in word and action. Set your expectations high and enforce them with consequences when your child fails to be respectful (and it will happen). Don’t ignore tone of voice, choice of words, body language or refusal to listen. These can all be signs of disrespect.

When I was a kid, all children in our area addressed adult neighbors by Mr or Mrs and their last name, always, no exceptions.  It was a sign of respect back then.  Our parents always referred to ‘ Mrs. Greenwood’ when in our presence, instead of using her first name (as they did when only in the company of adults).

Teach your child how to behave with common courtesy. Reinforce why common courtesy is required for society to function smoothly. Make them say their thanks and write thank you notes for gifts. Make them excuse themselves from the table or when the let loose with a bodily function society frowns on. Teach them about personal space and why we don’t like it invaded.

Having respect includes building trust. You build your child’s trust in you with each caregving step you preform. Teach your child what trust is all about and show them how they can build your trust in them.

Help your child build self-confidence – respect for herself. Part of having respect is knowing that you are worthwhile, knowing that you can do and be something, caring for your own body, mind and spirit. Teaching self-sufficiency also helps build self-confidence.

Demand respect – for yourself and for others. Enforce writing thank you notes, conversing in polite tones, saying I’m sorry with meaning. Model respect for others and your child. Teach courteous behavior, teach the why’s behind obeying laws and making sure that the laws of the land are appropriate.

Adults are responsible for their own health.

Healthy bodies make for healthy minds. When we are little, our parents filter our physical care and food to make sure that we grow up healthy (at least most of them do). They teach us how to care for ourselves – to brush our teeth, wash our bodies, keep our hands clean, eat the right kinds of food and get physical exercise.

Yet, as adults, many of us fail to take responsibility for our own health. We eat too much and foods of the wrong type. We depend on pills and doctors instead of being proactive in our own health care. Don’t pass along this growing and negative legacy. Teach your children to be responsible for their own bodies and minds.


Model healthy living and insist that they practice it as well. Demonstrate through story and news what happens when you destroy your body with drugs, abuse and etc. Our family has several bad examples of what drugs – even when just taken one time – can do to permanently damage a person. I’m sure many other families have similar stories as well. Trust but verify that they aren’t using drugs or other harmful substances.

Make it an expectation that fruits and vegetables will make up a large part of the family diet. Eat at home more than you eat out. Teach the kids to shop and cook and let them practice by preparing some of the meals. I got lucky with my sons. Although I never did consciously teach them to cook, they both are pretty good cooks today – and they cook healthy foods!

Model active physical behavior and let the kids see it – do physically demanding things together. Let them see you exercise each day and put a little drill Sargent into your modus operandi. One of my sons exercises at home, in spare moments between other activities and he doesn’t hesitate to involve the kids by leading them in doing jumping jacks, challenging them to do 10 pushups or running foot races with them.

Help them understand that their mind and body are connected. Train them to use their minds – to learn, to solve problems, to plan and to rule their own body.

Let them experience using their minds to control their own bodies. Missing a meal to actually feel hungry and showing them that their minds can control that hunger without eating is one way to do so. Pushing their limit on some kind of physical activity – past the point where they are tired and want to quit, will help them understand that mental control over physical limitations is possible.

Show them that you continually use and train your mind to keep it healthy. Share your curiosity and seek answers together with your child. Show your older children how to (nicely) challenge their younger siblings to learn and do new things (i.e teach them to teach).

These are basic things I believe parents should pass along to their children. Without learning them, today’s child would just be tomorrow’s big kid, not a responsible adult.

What have I missed?

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