The news that a baby is on the way is generally met with happiness and nine months of getting ready. For better and for worse, most of our preparation involves getting the stuff that babies need and doing all of the things that relate to the actual birth. After that, doing what’s needed to keep the child safe is somewhere near the top of the list for what’s next and then, we just state doing what we think comes naturally.

I think that, at one point in time, parenting did come more naturally. For a great period of history, most parents were so busy ensuring basic food and shelter that there was time for little else. The entire family, including children, all played numerous and varying supporting roles in this process. This is certainly not the case today. While most families are still consumed with work, parents often purchase many of the services that we historically provided for ourselves, like daycare, cooking and cleaning. The result for many is exhaustion, and less one-on-one time for family members along with an unspoken cloud of worry and guilt about all that can’t be squeezed into daily life.

While I don’t think that good parenting just comes naturally or that safety and a child’s well-being ends with covers on the electrical outlets or car seats, I do think that enhancing a child’s daily life, future and the prevention of harm is much less complicated or difficult than we might suppose and it’s at everyone’s fingertips regardless of income.

It does mean, preferably before becoming a parent, that each parent must give some though to their core values and beliefs, and then do their best each day to model those values for the children in their lives. The SEL program describes a set of core values that are ideal for anyone who wants to steer children on a path that will someday make them a better parent and will, eventually, end the abuse and mistreatment of children. The acronym SEL represents Social and Emotional Learning and divides this huge area of learning into the following five major categories: Self-Management, Social Awareness, Relationship Skills, Self-Awareness and Responsible Decision-Making. You can learn more about this Austin Independent School District program here.

While the categories may sound intimidating, many who were lucky enough to have loving and nurturing parents probably have the needed ability and qualities. Others have claimed them through life experience and education, but in any case, putting these character building attributes first requires becoming routinely aware that our behavior impacts those around us, especially our children. We can’t have multiple sets of behavior that we use with the various groups in our lives – family, friends, work colleagues and strangers. It requires conscious thought and awareness and we build this moral muscle with daily practice and modeling.

Stay tuned for more of my thoughts on the various values and competencies. These comprise the qualities that will make our community a safer, kinder and more humane place for both children and adults but most significantly, the values are an essential part of stopping the pain that too many endure.