As we celebrate the birth of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., it’s helpful to reflect on his legacy, accomplishments, and teachings. This is a man who stood for justice, love, and encouragement, and displayed an unyielding passion for fairness and equality. 

As a parent who is often tired and impatient when it comes to dealing with my kids, I know that I can take comfort and wisdom from many of the tenets of Dr. King’s philosophies and values. Maybe you can, too. Here are a few practical ways to allow his values to imbue your parenting.

Solve Interpersonal Problems Peacefully

Dr. King preached non-violence. It was a hallmark of his work. Could our children use a dose that teaching from time to time? Absolutely! By reminding your children about using words and not fists to solve their problems, you’ll be reinforcing a key concept of Dr. King’s lifelong pursuit. This extends beyond words, however. It’s also about remaining calm, thinking through your problems with another person, and developing a reasonable, fair solution. Again, these might be heady concepts for a child, but if you can distill them and boil them down to ideas that a child can understand, it might play a key role in their problem-solving capabilities.

Treat Others With Respect

Dr. King fought his entire life to see that people from all walks of life were treated with dignity and equality. In today’s world, it sometimes seems that is a skill that is sorely lacking, despite many gains that have been made. How can you instill this mindset in your child? It begins with the words you use around your children and how you treat others. If you set an example of inclusion in your words and actions, it will sink into your children's minds. If you disrespect others and use language that demeans or degrades, whether in public or in your private moments, it will show your child that those types of thoughts and prejudices are acceptable. That would go against everything Dr. King stood for.

Stand Up for What You Believe In

If there’s one takeaway of Dr. King’s public fight for justice, it’s his constant willingness to stand up for what he believed in. Whether it was voting rights or other civil rights, Dr. King was usually found on the front lines of those battles. For you and your children, such a public display may not be in the cards. However, in your day-to-day life you can set an example for your kids and reinforce to them the importance of standing up for themselves and for others who might be bullied or looked down on. These issues can be sensitive and your children need to be reminded that there’s a right way and a wrong way to fight for justice and change. If you have those conversations with your children, it will be much in line with the spirit and tone of what Dr. King sought to achieve.

Do What’s Right Even if It’s the More Difficult Path

Being peaceful, treating fellow people with respect, and standing up for what you believe in can be hard to do. It’s often much easier to fade into the background and let someone else take the lead at those critical moments. What Dr. King would likely council us to do is to weigh our choices and decide whether we believe strongly enough in our convictions to do what we believe is right. He spent a lifetime doing that and, consequently, butted heads with many people who opposed him. Even if our children aren’t always willing or able to take those stands, it can still be instructive for them to know what their options are in those moments and how to handle those types of situations.