10 Rules for Living I’ve Taught My Children

I’ve spent  26+ years being a parent, and if there’s anything I know for sure, it’s this: children learn what they live. You can talk until you’re blue in the face, but if you don’t act as you speak, your kids won’t take to heart the things that you say.

Among many others, here are 10 rules for living I taught my now-grown children, guidelines that work for me and that I follow nearly all the time. It’s not easy figuring out grown-up life, but hopefully, these things help them as often as possible.

    • Never go anywhere empty-handed. No matter what type of event you’re invited to at someone’s home — from a dinner for two to a party for dozens, always bring a little something for the host or hostess. Whether it’s an inexpensive bottle of wine or a pretty pad of paper and pen, a gift is mandatory.
    • Along those lines, go when you’re invited. Unless it’s something completely out of your comfort zone — say, a wife-swapping party or a marathon viewing of Cameron Diaz films — always accept an invitation. You never know who you’ll meet or what will happen. This is especially true during the transition from college to young adulthood, when those built-in social networks may fall away.
    • Be patient and take your time. Most decisions I’ve made in a rush have been the wrong ones. Patience and self-control – waiting for someone else to make the first move, re-thinking a major purchase, waiting ten seconds to speak when you’re upset – these things are never a bad idea.
    • Be nice to the outcasts. I was adamant about this when they were growing up — having moved from school to school many times as a child, I remembered vividly how lonely it can be to feel like you don’t belong. Combine that with the horrors of Columbine and other school shootings and the lesson was obvious. No one ever looked back on being mean and felt proud of it.
    • When you meet someone new, ask questions. This is a no-fail approach. If you ask questions and are interested in someone when you meet them, they’ll like you and remember you.
    • Write thank-you notes.
    • If something fits you really well, buy it in two colors. Especially shoes.
    • Leave a nice tip. Many would disagree with me on this, but unless the service is really bad, a nice tip is the kind thing to do.
    • Brownies are appropriate for nearly anything. For my family, no matter what happens — good or bad — brownies are always a good choice.
  • My most important rule, the one that I believe in more than anything, is: What goes around, comes around. Both of my kids have come to me over and over to share moments in their lives when they’ve witnessed the absolute truth of this statement — both positive and negative.

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  • Well these are great not only for my kids but for me too!! Love these!! Thanks.

  • Very good lessons.

    I’ve tried to teach my children to be gracious and it mostly worked. Compassion and kindness were also important

  • These are great rules, Sharon, and we taught our son the same ones. He always sends thank you’s for gifts, etc. (sometimes by emails) but I can’t say that others do the same to us. The way of the new world, I guess.

    Great subject. I love talking about good manners, because in the age of SM many times it goes by the wayside.

  • In addition to these great rules, a couple I’d add are:

    1) make eye contact when talking to people (forever trying to bang this one in to my eldest!)
    2) it’s just as important to say Please and Thank You for little things (someone holding the door open etc) as it is for the big things
    3) remember that the world doesn’t revolve around you

    • Sharon Greenthal

      Yes – especially #3!

    • Kathy

      A few more additions:
      If you accept that invitation, show up!

      Your siblings will treat you as you treat them. When you beat up on your brother/sister, you’re teaching them how to treat you! Think about it!

      Nobody ever learned anything by talking. Learn to listen.

      Always tell the truth. If you lie, you have too much to remember.

      “I want” doesn’t mean “I get”

  • These are great rules for ALL of us Sharon….I have to admit one of my favorites was the one about writing Thank You notes…far too many people these days have forgotten this simple courtesy. And of course the BIG one is your last tip…”What goes around, comes around.:

  • These are wise and right on target, Sharon. I’m sure your kids are wonderful people.

  • Good things happen outside your comfort zone…go there.

  • I have taught my children a strong hand shake and looking directly in someones eyes make a great first impression and of course always use please & thank you.

  • Great rules. I like bring a gift and brownies are often perfect. What I don’t like is someone young or old asking if they can bring something and then they don’t! If someone asks I usually say a beverage and remind them I don’t drink so if they want a beer or a wine they should bring it. Don’t ask and don’t bring is better than ask and don’t!!

  • These are all excellent rules in which to live by! I also am a big believer in what comes around goes around and also treat people like you would want to be treated is a big one in this house. If you do wrong then apologize and move on and number 1 was take responsibility for your own actions I thing teaching them that are consequences to every decision made is also very important!

  • I totally agree and LOVE this list!

  • So perfect! I’ve been preaching much of this to my kids for years (need to tell them about the “if it fits well, buy it in two colors!). We think they don’t hear us and then, out of the blue, they show us that they have heard us after all. Still, I’m not taking a risk and sending them this article. Because we know that they listen much better if advice is not coming from their own parents.

  • When in doubt give the benefit of the doubt.

  • I love these words of wisdom.You have obviously reared your children to be kind and considerate which I find to be an attribute lacking these days. And yes “What goes around, comes around”. That is my life motto too!

  • I also tried to make sure my girls understood the importance of having their own money. Even if it’s $5.00. That, and a cheese plate.

  • These are all great, Sharon. You set a wonderful example for your kids. As to thank you notes: we got our first “done by herself” from our 7 yr old granddaughter. She drew a picture of all the birthday presents she got from us. That’s going in my Warm and Fuzzy File, for sure!

  • My added advice: “Always do a little more than either required or expected. The ability to stand out is quite easy with just a modicum of extra effort or attention.” This approach has gotten my 21 year old daughter many job interviews, callbacks, offers, and compliments.

  • Great life lessons, to be sure! I’m sure your children are quite successful in life and will or have relayed those same considerations to others. This summer was a whirlwind of activity and I’m not sure if it’s because we were truly busier than ever, or if it’s simply the mix of two children vs. one, but offer to bring something to a party or gathering. It’s only polite and even if it’s a bottle of wine or a quick no-bake dessert, at least you’re making an effort to help out the other party. More often than not, our offers were refused because we’d been the party host or they really didn’t need any extras. I like to think that people remember or speak of me fondly, and not the opposite, as being selfish.

  • Such great advice – for our kids, and ourselves! I bet your grown up children are great people :). And you are so right, they have to see you living up to your words!

  • The advice I live by is to always trust your instincts. Whether you call it paying attention to your gut feeling or listening to that little voice in your head, I’ve learned that trusting that voice is almost always the smartest way to go.
    Also: Be kind, always.

  • OlySuperMom

    After we’re gone, your siblings are all you have left, so treat them like your best friend.

    Don’t procrastinate (from the annals of do as I say, not as I did).

    Always tell the truth, because we always find out eventually.

  • I appreciate these so much, particularly “be nice to the outcasts.” I used to tell my kids that their nice words might be the only ones that kid heard all day.

    I would add to the list: Talk about it. I see a lot of kids hold back from discussing their issues for fear of being “too sensitive” or “petty”. I’ve told my own kids and the ones I work with at Boys and Girls, if you have an issue, there’s a good chance you’re not the only one. Find someone you trust, and give them a chance to tell you that, “you’re not the only one.”

  • Always say “please” and “thank you”. Our sons were quite stunned to realize how many of their friends were apparently not taught the “magic words”.

  • I fear that the number one lesson I have taught them is the one about brownies…we eat brownies a lot. But, I also taught them about diligence and perseverance…both pay off big time. Finally, we say this often…be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry!

    Good post…agree and enjoyed all of your lessons!

  • I think all of these are right on the money. I would also add Always be kind and Tell the truth. Lying is never good.

  • I agree with most of your tips, especially with the one of buying in two colours if something fits you! Call it capitalism, or call it “it’s just in case the first one gets broken”!

  • Great advice for kids and adults, Sharon. I didn’t grow up in a family with high social skills, but I learned a ton of them from my mother-in-law. The only one I’ve never stuck with is the ‘formal’ thank you note. Can’t explain it, but I keep trying to do better. I’m quick to say thank you, just not quick to write a note afterward.

  • Love these! And so true . . . they learn what they live. But, I have to say, my kids are 18 and 20 and they’ve been writing TY notes their whole lives, but it is still like pulling teeth! I keep waiting for them to do it without being hounded. I guess it’s good they still need me for something! 😉 Thanks for the great post!

  • Bravo. Listen more than you talk (my version of ask a lot of questions).
    ps: your children must be wonderful; well done mama.

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