Any parent headed home with their first child is probably a bit nervous about this whole parenthood thing. Unfortunately, each unique baby doesn't come with its own manual.
Whether you visit a local bookstore or go to Amazon.com for parenting assistance, hundreds of books offer different perspectives on the best way to raise good children. In spite of all the different approaches, however, a group of Harvard psychologists found that it really boils down to some very basic strategies:
* Spend time with your children. It can be so tempting to be in the same room with your child as they play with toys or a computer while you check email or see what's happening on social media. That isn't what the researchers are talking about. Spending time with your child means you engage them in play, look into their eyes, read a book with them, learn about their friends and find out what they think about school and that sort of thing. By doing this, you are teaching them how to show care for another person and that they are a priority to you.
* Model the behavior you want to see. It's easy to have one set of expectations for children and another set for adults. In some cases this makes sense, but when it comes to teaching your children, they are like sponges. They take in all you do. Everything from how you care for yourself and let others talk to you, to how you deal with a difficult personal situation or how you handle anger teaches them right from wrong and what it means to be an upstanding citizen. When you model the behavior you want to see, it is a powerful thing.
* Show your child how to care for others. Children believe the world revolves around them. When you involve them in caring for others, especially people who are different from you, they learn they will not always be the center of attention and that all people matter. They also see what it looks like to share with others without being selfish.
* Set high ethical expectations. Even the little moments can teach your child about being an honest and ethical person. When the cashier gives you too much change and you return the money instead of keeping it, they see. Or when your child sneaks something in their pocket from the store after you told them they could not have it and you make them return it with an apology, that's a teaching moment.
* Teach your child to be appreciative and grateful. Parents usually start with teaching their children "please," "thank you" and "you are welcome." Giving your child age-appropriate chores and thanking them for doing their part also teaches them about appreciation and gratefulness. Teaching them how to write thank-you notes and to think about others' feelings and needs is another method you can use.
* Teach them how to see beyond themselves. Find ways to engage them in activities that show them a world beyond their family and close friends. Help them appreciate differences in ethnicity. Talk with them about other places in the world, rituals, customs, living conditions, etc. By doing this you are expanding their world.
According to the Harvard researchers, the children in their study thought their own happiness and self-esteem was really important to their parents. Instead of being concerned that they are always happy, you can teach them how to be kind to others in their world, including the bus driver, the Wal-Mart greeter or the referee at a sports event. Focusing on these things will help you raise children who are caring, kind, courageous and responsible children.
Julie Baumgardner is president and CEO of First Things First. Contact her at email@example.com.