10 Things I Want to Teach My Child before He Turns 18

Posted September 12, 2012 by

Photo of elisabeth

Ever have one of those epiphanies about your kid, the one where you realize that your baby is not “little” anymore — and is, in fact, well on his way to adulthood? This summer, it hit me like a sack of wet beach sand — my son is halfway to 18. Just 9 more years before he’ll be able to vote, join the military or (legally) get a tattoo. I recently read a post by Lindsey Mead Russell called 10 Things I Want My Daughter to Know before She Turns 10, and it got me thinking about what I’d like Alex to learn before he grows up.

1.  Be kind. To each other and to yourself. Smile. Be generous. One kind word can create a ripple effect that might change the way people around you feel today. If we could all remember to do this, imagine what the world would be like. (And yes, that means being kind to the girls in your class, too.)

2. Take responsibility for your actions. This is one of the toughest things to do in life, in my opinion. It’s hard (and humbling) to admit you’ve made a mistake, done something wrong or hurt someone. But being able to ‘fess up is one of the keys to being a strong, brave person.  Remember, it’s impossible to change without first accepting responsibility for your actions.

3. Find something to do that you’re passionate about. The fact is that we spend most of our lives working. If it’s possible to find something you love to do every day, you’ve won half the battle.

4. “You don’t have to attend every fight you’re invited to.” — James Lehman. Sometimes it takes more courage to walk away — or to not fight at all — than it does to throw a punch or say something cutting and cruel. You have the ability to decide for yourself whether to join a fight. You have the power not to join it, as well.

5. Positive thoughts get you much farther than negative ones. If you want to accomplish anything in life, telling yourself you can’t do it won’t help. Life isn’t always easy, but being positive (and surrounding yourself with positive people) can help you take the leap necessary to start living your dreams.

6. If you’re not trying, you’re not living. I don’t mean that you have to win at everything or be the best at everything, necessarily. Trying means you’re doing your best and not holding back — not coasting through life. When you look back, it always feels good if you can say, “I tried my best.”

7. Being popular is not the same thing as having friends. True friends are the people who will be loyal to you no matter what, and who care about what happens to you. They’re happy when good things happen to you and listen to you when you’re going through a hard time. Being popular might feel good, but it’s fleeting. Good friends will be with you for a lifetime.

8. Your uniqueness is a strength. Maybe you don’t like the same things everyone else does. (Snakes, frogs and lizards, for example, in my son’s case.) Maybe you don’t learn the same way, or see things the same way, either. That’s okay. Keep doing what you love to do. What makes you unique is also what will give you strength in life.

9. Don’t be afraid to hug. I’ve found that men who are able to hug and show affection are strong and feel comfortable in their own skins.

10. Everyone makes mistakes — even Mom and Dad. We are not perfect by any means, and we don’t know the answers to every question. (And you sure ask some good ones!) We make mistakes, but we love you and are trying our best every day to get it right.


Anything you would add to the list? What’s the one thing you would like to teach your child before he or she grows up?

Elisabeth Wilkins is the Editor of Empowering Parents and the mother of one son, age 9. She lives with her family and a growing menagerie in Cape Elizabeth, Maine.


Elisabeth Wilkins was the editor of Empowering Parents and the mother of an 10-year-old son. Her work has appeared in national and international publications, including Mothering, Motherhood (Singapore), Hausfrau, The Bad Mother Chronicles, and The Japan Times. Elisabeth holds a Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Southern Maine.

Popular on Empowering Parents

Reader Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Bridgette (Edit) Report

    I think a lot about what my goal in parenting is. Ultimately, my goal is to raise adults who are kind, contributing members of society. I really like this list and could probably add several that run through my head or come out of my mouth weekly or even daily. Life Skills I would add are:
    –Life isn’t fair.
    –Don’t take it too personally.
    –Learn how to take constructive criticism and learn what that looks like.

    • Elisabeth Wilkins Report

      Bridgette: Wise words, and so true. Learning how to take constructive criticism (without taking it personally) is one of the best life skills you can teach your kids, I think. Thanks for your comments. 🙂

  2. D. Rowden, Parental Support Advisor (Edit) Report

    To “Glenda”: We appreciate you sharing your story. What a tough situation to be in! You ask a great question. Many parents struggle with knowing how best to implement consequences when their child misbehaves. One thing you might consider is the natural consequence that is already in place, namely, the loss of being able to spend time with her friend. Having another consequence probably isn’t going to get the message across more than that. Instead of consequencing your daughter on top of that, we would suggest focusing on problem solving with her how she might be able to handle a similar situation differently next time. Here are a couple of articles about problem solving you may find useful: The Surprising Reason for Bad Child Behavior: “I Can’t Solve Problems”& Good Behavior is not “Magic”—It’s a Skill The Three Skills Every Child Needs for Good Behavior. Another thing you might consider is having your daughter write an amends letter to her friend’s mom. You could have her write a note that states she was wrong for what she did and what she will do differently next time. In this situation, making amends is preferable to a loss of a privilege or other consequence because it gives your daughter the opportunity to learn from the situation. We wish you and your daughter luck as you work through this issue. Take care.

  3. Glenda (Edit) Report

    Love the comments about values to give our children. My daughter aged 15 has just last night learnt a valuable lesson in being honest, even though she was heart broken and in tears after spilling the beans. I just have to think of a suitable consequence for her so she learns from her mistake. Brief background, I had a phone call from a good friend namely mother of my daughter’s friend since primary school. The mother accused my daughter of setting up a facebook page for her child. I said I did not think that would be the case but spoke to mine about it. She is adamant she did not, but did say that the friend found out a fake page had been set up in her name and friend asked mine to help her delete it. I stressed to her she should have told me about it upfront and asked if she had been involved with anything else for this friend. She finally burst into tears and confessed that she had helped friend delete fake facebook pages a couple of other times, but was too scared to say anything as she didn’t want herself and friend to get into trouble! Friend’s mother less than understanding and has now banned contact between our daughters so mine now even more upset. Tried to explain to the mother that my daughter had not set up the page but had merely tried to help her child by deleting it. Suggested that someone from her child’s school probably set it up as a fake page, but she is adamant that the fault all lies with us. I am more angry with this parent and suggested that her daughter should have also spoken to her about it! Anyway, now need to give my daughter a suitable consequence – she suggested she be banned from facebook for a while, but I think that is not really going to get the message across. Any suggestions gratefully sought?

  4. Resenta (Edit) Report

    Be helpful to other PEOPLE. If you see a friend in need of something – material or resource or caring, give it. Give only what you can afford to give. And yes, I agree lets teach our children to believe and go to the God of our understanding in good and bad times. If more adults showed a little of the qualities listed here, our lives would be easier.

  5. Brigitte V (Edit) Report

    I love these comments – they are important for an overall successful life.
    I would also like to add that I like to teach my children not to worry too much about situations that we don’t have control on. We have to learn to do what we can in tackling daily matters but also accept that sometimes things take their own course in life. Also to learn to turn to God whatever religion we practice and after we have tried all we can in a given situation we leave it to Him to sort out for us – it really works wonders for me and I have learned to keep my mind clear of unnessary concerns.

  6. Anastacia Dube (Edit) Report

    1. Make yourself useful.

    2. No one likes a freeloader.

    3. Help out when you see the opportunity.

    I have 2 sons that I wish to become individuals that can not only take care of themselves, but take care of others as well. I have only 1 year left with my oldest son, but so far so good.

  7. MaryO (Edit) Report

    Not only take responsibility for your actions, but for your life. Your life is what YOU make it. Things don’t just happen (e.g., being a great athlete, winning a spelling bee, going to a good college, making a difference). YOU MAKE THINGS HAPPEN. Second, life is a journey. Enjoy the ride, not just the outcome.

  8. Colleenah (Edit) Report

    As always you’ve been able to beautifully and concisely put into words what I feel too. With each point, I thought “Yeah – that’s what I think!” but putting words to it adds framework to general attitudes and ambiguous hunches. Having that structure allows us to put indistinct desires for our children into more focused attention. You are just the best!

  9. Restless mom (Edit) Report

    So I have a 9 year old boy, who is trying to be 13 year old. His behavior is weird, he wants to be cool all the time, he doesn’t want me to be around him when he is with friends.
    Then he lies about smallest little things, coz he is maybe scared of my reaction. He also tends to hide his emotions or opinions to avoid my lecture or arguements.
    He is very bright academically and very competatitive as well.
    I don’t want to drive him away from me but want to be there and explain how this behaviour can hurt him in long term…

    What should we do and guide me…

  10. Brenda (Edit) Report

    I have so enjoyed all lessons you mentioned. I especially like Peggy’s quote that ‘it’s okay if someone doesn’t like you’.

    We all need to develop a good and healthy relationship with ourselves. Part of that is being kind to ourselves when perhaps other are not so kind. In addition, learning to care for ourselves allows us to stand confidently in our uniqueness and give the world the best within us.

    Really wonderful post!


    • Elisabeth Wilkins Report

      Brenda, thanks so much for your comments. I agree wholeheartedly about the need to be kind to ourselves. So important, and sometimes so difficult to do. Caring less about how other people may judge us — and spending more time figuring out what we stand for and what makes us feel whole — is a huge part of that. (Still working on that one myself!)

  11. Peggy (Edit) Report

    I love this and I think you’ve hit some wonderful and key points. I’d add this one – particularly for my daughters: “It’s okay if someone doesn’t like you.” You don’t have to be everyone’s favorite and you don’t have to be friends with everyone. You do have to be respectful to everyone, and you deserve respect in return. But don’t turn yourself inside-out to be liked or approved of by someone who asks you to be less than who you are.

    • Elisabeth Wilkins Report

      I love this. And oh, how I wish I could remember to do it myself! (Though I will say that the older I get, the easier it gets to let go of the need to have everyone like me. There are some bonuses to getting older, after all.)

  12. Rouchgirl (Edit) Report

    1. Always ALWAYS tell the truth! Honesty will get you a lot farther in life than lies will. Lying to people ruins they’re trust in you and hurts your integrity.
    2. Never give up and quit…to continually quit is never to succeed. Make sure you give it your all and ask for help if you need it.
    3. Do not take things that do not belong to you..that’s stealing and no one likes or trusts a thief.

    • Elisabeth Wilkins Report

      Rouchgirl, I completely agree and I love these suggestions! I especially like what you said about never giving up — so true. The biggest shame isn’t trying and failing — it’s giving up and never really giving it (or yourself) a shot. Thanks for your comment.



Join our NEW Total Transformation® Learning Center!

Practical, affordable parenting help starting at $14.95/month BECOME A MEMBER TODAY!

Empowering Parents is the leading online resource for child behavior help


Parent Coaching Sessions

7.5 Million

Global Visitors

10+ Years

Helping Families