How Not to Raise Jerks — A Parent’s Guide-

Lauro Amezcua-Patino, MD, FAPA.
10 min readJun 9, 2024

by Lauro Amezcua-Patino, MD, FAPA and Vincent Perez-Mazzola

by Lauro Amezcua-Patino, MD, FAPA and Vincent Perez-Mazzola

A baby’s cry echoes through the hospital nursery, while another sleeps peacefully. The quiet one may grow up to be a reserved introvert, while the fussy one could become an outgoing extrovert. These traits are part of our nature, but it is the nurturing by parents and society that shapes who we become.

The goal of parenthood is to raise a child who surpasses their own limitations and becomes a compassionate and productive member of society. However, without an instruction manual and no preparation for this daunting task, mistakes are bound to happen — from repeating negative patterns to outright neglect.

But with love as the foundation, along with discipline and modeling positive behaviors, children can grow into kind, empathetic, and well-adjusted adults. As both a child psychiatrist and parent, I have personally seen the good, the bad, and the ugly of child rearing — and have made some missteps myself. So here are some proven strategies for raising kids who don’t turn out to be selfish jerks in adulthood.

Model Kindness and Empathy

As I walked down the street with my child, I noticed an elderly woman struggling to carry her groceries. Without hesitation, we offered to help her and she gratefully accepted. Upon returning home, I explained to my child how our small act of kindness made a big impact on someone’s day.

Later that week, we volunteered at a local food bank together. My child learned about the importance of helping others in need and how even a small contribution can make a difference.

During our interactions with others, we always used polite language and showed courtesy. It may seem like a simple gesture, but it teaches children the value of respect and consideration for others.

At dinner, we talked about the emotions we experienced throughout the day and how we managed them. By being open about our own emotions, my child learned that it is normal to have feelings and how to express them in healthy ways.

In our home, empathy and kindness are actively practiced and encouraged. We listen to each other without judgment, validate each other’s emotions, and create a safe space to share our thoughts and feelings.

Through real-life experiences, media, and stories, we teach our children how to understand and show empathy towards others. Our goal is to raise compassionate individuals who contribute to a kind and understanding society where everyone feels valued.

By modeling kindness and empathy ourselves, we not only teach our children these important qualities but also contribute towards creating a better world for all.

Teach Emotional Intelligence

As parents, it is our responsibility to equip our children with the essential skills they need to navigate life’s challenges. One crucial aspect of this is teaching emotional intelligence (EI) — the ability to recognize, understand, manage, and use emotions effectively. EI plays a vital role in personal and social development, impacting relationships, decision-making, and overall mental health.

To introduce children to a wide range of emotions, we can start by using basic emotion words like happy, sad, angry, and scared, then gradually incorporating more complex feelings such as frustrated, anxious, excited, and disappointed. We can also model healthy ways to manage our own emotions by taking deep breaths when we’re frustrated or going for a walk to clear our minds when we’re stressed. By creating a safe and open environment where children feel comfortable sharing their emotions, we can regularly check in with them about their feelings and experiences.

When conflicts arise, instead of telling children what they are feeling or how to feel, we can help them identify and express their emotions by asking questions like “What are you feeling right now?” and “Why do you think you feel this way?” We can also teach the importance of apologizing and forgiving by encouraging sincere apologies and discussing how forgiveness can help move past negative emotions.

Overall, teaching emotional intelligence is crucial for raising well-rounded, empathetic, and resilient children. By providing them with the tools to recognize and label emotions, regulate their feelings, develop empathy, express themselves emotionally, problem-solve, and build resilience, we are setting them up for success in their emotional well-being and in forming healthy relationships. These skills not only benefit them now but also prepare them to become compassionate, self-aware, and emotionally intelligent adults.

Set Clear Boundaries and Consequences

A child throws a toy and the parent immediately takes it away for a brief time. For older children, clear expectations such as “complete homework before playing video games” are set and reinforced consistently across all caregivers. Positive behavior is also rewarded, in addition to consequences for negative actions. The parent models respectful and responsible behavior, creating a supportive environment for their child’s development.

By setting specific rules and logical consequences, communicating expectations and following through consistently, the parent is able to guide their child towards understanding the importance of rules and taking accountability for their actions. Ultimately, this approach fosters a sense of security and respect within the family and equips children with valuable skills for navigating the world responsibly and empathetically.

Encourage Responsibility and Independence

Children need to learn responsibility and independence at a young age in order to become self-sufficient, confident, and capable adults. This can be achieved through hands-on experiences and guidance from parents. For example, assigning simple tasks like putting away toys or feeding pets allows toddlers and preschoolers to understand the concept of responsibility. As they grow, more complex chores that match their abilities can be introduced.

Consistency is key when it comes to teaching children about responsibility. By establishing a routine for chores, children learn that these tasks are a regular part of their day and develop a sense of responsibility towards them. Giving children choices within set boundaries also helps them practice decision-making skills in a controlled environment.

When faced with challenges, instead of providing immediate answers, parents can guide their children to come up with solutions on their own. This encourages critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Allowing children to try new tasks independently, with guidance and support, builds their confidence and self-reliance.

Acknowledging and celebrating children’s accomplishments, such as completing tasks independently, is important in reinforcing positive behavior. This boosts their self-esteem and motivates them to take on new challenges.

Teaching children to take care of their personal belongings also instills responsibility. Parents can explain the importance of maintaining possessions and the consequences of neglecting them.

It’s important for parents to continuously nurture these qualities as children grow. Beyond household tasks, involving children in community service or environmental activities teaches them about contributing positively to society. These experiences not only prepare children for practical aspects of life but also promote confidence, self-esteem, and a sense of accomplishment.

Ultimately, by empowering children to take ownership of their actions and make informed decisions, parents are setting them up for success and fulfillment throughout their lives.

Foster Healthy Social Skills

As children grow, they learn the importance of social skills. These skills allow them to connect with others and navigate various situations with ease.

Simple expressions like “please,” “thank you,” and “excuse me” show respect for others. At the dinner table, children can practice good manners by chewing with their mouths closed and waiting for everyone to be served before eating.

Greeting people politely and introducing themselves helps children feel more comfortable in social settings. With active listening skills, they can make eye contact, nod in agreement, and wait for their turn to speak.

It’s important to use words to express thoughts and feelings instead of resorting to physical actions. Encouraging acts of kindness teaches empathy and promotes positive interactions.

By teaching these skills and providing opportunities for social interaction, parents set their children up for success in building relationships. Strong social skills also contribute to emotional well-being. The goal is to equip children with the tools they need to interact respectfully and empathetically, laying a solid foundation for a fulfilling life.

Teach Conflict Resolution

Conflicts are a natural part of life, and teaching children how to handle them constructively is crucial for their growth. This involves actively listening, finding compromises, and being respectful.

As role models, adults can demonstrate effective conflict resolution by remaining calm and communicating respectfully during disagreements. For instance, you can say “I understand your perspective, but I also feel differently” instead of getting angry or aggressive. By treating others with respect, you set an example for children to follow in their own interactions.

Furthermore, helping children identify and label their emotions is important. Instead of telling them they seem frustrated or upset, ask them questions like “What are you feeling right now?” and “Why do you think that is?” This encourages self-awareness and allows them to address the root causes of their emotions rather than solely focusing on the surface level of a conflict.

Teaching conflict resolution skills is an essential aspect of raising empathetic and respectful individuals. By demonstrating positive conflict resolution techniques, nurturing emotional intelligence, promoting effective communication, fostering empathy, and reinforcing problem-solving strategies, children can learn to navigate conflicts constructively.

These skills not only benefit their current relationships but also prepare them for future personal and professional interactions. Remember, conflicts are a normal part of life, and learning to manage them in a healthy manner can strengthen relationships and create a harmonious environment. Here are some ways to help children develop these skills:

- Model positive conflict resolution: Instead of reacting impulsively, take deep breaths or count to ten before responding. This shows children the importance of regulating emotions and responding thoughtfully.

- Foster empathy: Encourage children to imagine how others may feel in a conflict by asking questions like “How do you think they felt when that happened?” or “What were they thinking?” This helps them understand different perspectives.

- Validate feelings: It’s important to acknowledge that everyone’s feelings are valid, even if you don’t agree with them. This helps children learn to respect others’ emotions.

- Teach sincere apologies and forgiveness: Apologizing takes accountability for one’s actions, while forgiving allows both parties to move past the conflict without holding grudges. Praise children when they handle conflicts well as positive reinforcement.

- Highlight the benefits: Remind children that resolving conflicts constructively can lead to stronger relationships and a more peaceful environment.

By teaching these skills, we equip children with the tools they need to manage conflicts effectively and promote healthy relationships.

Limit Exposure to Negative Influences

In today’s society, children are constantly exposed to external influences that can shape their values and behaviors. As a parent, it is crucial to actively guide your child and provide a strong moral foundation. This can be achieved by setting boundaries for screen time, using parental controls and content filters, and fostering positive relationships and activities.

Limiting screen time is important as it allows for a balance between media consumption and essential activities such as schoolwork, physical exercise, and quality family time. By watching TV shows and movies together with your child, you can also use these opportunities to discuss themes and messages portrayed in the media and promote critical thinking skills.

Another way to protect your child from negative influences is to encourage friendships with peers who share similar values. This can be done by getting to know your child’s friends and their parents, as well as promoting involvement in sports, clubs, and community service projects where positive social interactions are fostered.

As a parent, your actions speak louder than words. Children often mirror the behavior of their parents, so it is important to lead by example by showing respect, kindness, and empathy in your interactions with others. Additionally, maintaining an open and supportive environment at home where your child feels comfortable expressing their thoughts and concerns can help build trust and strengthen communication. Listen actively without judgment and offer guidance when needed. By doing so, you are instilling valuable skills and building a solid foundation for your child’s moral development.

As a parent, it’s important to take advantage of teachable moments when negative influences or behaviors arise. For example, if your child sees someone being bullied at school, you can discuss why bullying is wrong and explore alternative ways to handle the situation.

In cases where your child is consistently exposed to negative influences or is struggling to cope with challenging situations, seeking professional help from a counselor or therapist can provide additional support and strategies.

Creating a protective framework for your child involves limiting their exposure to negative media, fostering positive relationships, and promoting a supportive home environment. By educating them about media literacy and addressing negative influences proactively, you can guide your child towards positive behaviors and attitudes.

It’s important to remember that the goal isn’t to shelter children from the world, but to equip them with the necessary skills and values to navigate it confidently. By actively involving yourself in their lives and providing guidance, you can shape their ability to make good choices, treat others with respect, and grow into empathetic individuals.

Be Patient and Consistent

Parenting is a journey filled with challenges and triumphs. It requires patience and consistency to be effective. By being patient, you show your child that learning and growth take time. When your toddler tests boundaries, respond calmly and explain why their behavior is not acceptable.

Mistakes are inevitable in a child’s development, but with patience, you can turn them into valuable learning experiences instead of punishing them. Consistency in rules and expectations provides a sense of security for your child and teaches them the consequences of their actions.

Positive reinforcement for good behavior helps shape positive habits, but it must be consistent. Whether it’s through praise or rewards, this consistency reinforces what behaviors are valued and should be repeated.

Be flexible when needed, as life is unpredictable. Explain changes to your child and help them adapt, teaching them the value of flexibility. Taking care of yourself is crucial for maintaining patience and consistency as a parent.

Overall, patience and consistency create a stable environment where children can thrive emotionally and socially. As a parent, your goal is not perfection but to guide your child towards becoming kind, empathetic, and respectful individuals by being a reliable role model.

Final Thoughts

As a parent, raising kind and respectful adults is my ultimate goal. I strive to provide a loving environment for my children, setting clear boundaries and modeling positive behavior every day. It’s not about being perfect, but equipping them with the tools and values they need to navigate the world with compassion. This means responding calmly and consistently to their behaviors, even when it’s tough. I know that by being patient, resilient, and supportive, I am teaching them valuable skills for life.

And let’s be real, there are times when we won’t always like each other — that’s natural in any relationship. But as a marathon, not a sprint, I will always lead with love and set a good example for my kids. After all, I want them to grow into the best versions of themselves, not jerks.

--

--

Lauro Amezcua-Patino, MD, FAPA.

Dr. Lauro Amezcua-Patiño: Bilingual psychiatrist, podcaster, clinical leader, educator, and researcher. Expert in forensic medicine and mental health issues.