Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day. It is the day Americans honor Dr. King’s legacy and his crucial role in helping our nation get closer to its goal of equality for all.1 We can teach our children several important lessons from MLK. Let’s honor this day by sharing these lessons with our kids and implementing them into our lives.
1. Dare to dream . . . and dream big.
Without a doubt, the quote that most people associate with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. comes from his historic 1963 speech, “I have a dream.” Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream and declared it to the world. No matter who you are or how big your dreams are, your dreams are valid. Teaching our children to dream big and work hard is a powerful lesson. Maybe your child dreams about becoming a doctor, astronaut, ballerina, or YouTube star. Maybe they dream about riding their bike without training wheels, being the fastest runner in their class, or tying their shoes by themselves. No matter how big or small, let’s teach our children to believe in themselves and their dreams and to work hard to make those dreams come true.
2. Love others.
Martin Luther King Jr. believed in the power of love. He taught us to love others and not hate because love always wins in the end. He believed that hating people is stooping low and that no one should ever fall prey to hate. Because when you return hate for hate, no one wins.
“Let no man pull you so low as to hate him.” – MLK
So when your child gets upset with you, a friend, or a teacher, remember this message and the power of love. This is one of our favorite lessons from MLK.
3. Don’t judge someone by their appearance.
We know that children are always the first to point out differences in others—with complete innocence, of course. Us parents need to teach our children this lesson from MLK. Everyone is different in terms of appearance, but the most important indicator of a person’s goodness is their character. Just because someone looks different from you on the outside doesn’t mean we should treat them differently. Character and moral qualities are what we should use to choose who we want to spend our time and energy with.
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” – MLK
4. Do not give up! Push on and persevere.
MLK believed in his dream. He believed in it so much that even though he was incarcerated on different occasions, he was never deterred from fighting for his dream of human rights. If you are going through tough times, it does not mean that you should quit. Never quit. Just keep moving forward.
“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.” – MLK
Our children must learn that the most worthwhile goals are often difficult to achieve. They should not give up at the first sign of difficulty. This goes for learning an instrument, becoming the best player on the team, or even going to school consistently. The best goals are often the toughest to strive for.
5. To succeed, you must work hard.
This goes along with the previous point. Dr. King and many others dedicated many years of their lives to the Civil Rights movement. While some lucky people may succeed in life without much effort, this is extremely rare. In most cases, the people we think succeeded without much effort actually worked extremely hard every day to accomplish their achievements. So if your child wants to be the best player on the soccer field or the best reader in the class, they must work hard and practice a lot to become the best they can be.
6. Education is of the utmost importance.
Kids need to learn the importance of good education. Going to school and the lessons we learn from our parents are the pillars on which we build our core values. MLK believed in empowering the human mind through education. He described ignorance as a dangerous thing.
“Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.” – MLK
Critical thinking is a skill that allows children to analyze subjects from multiple points of view. It lends itself to rational thinking and prevents biases.
“The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.” – MLK
7. Serve others.
This is one of the greatest lessons from MLK. Martin Luther King Jr. exemplified a life of service. He believed serving others is the epitome of greatness:
Kids should learn how sharing, pulling others up when they’re down, and being selfless can make their lives (and the lives of others) more joyful. It is always so much better to give than it is to receive.
“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’” – MLK
Be quick to forgive others. This can be a hard lesson to learn, but we should never allow hatred to develop in our hearts for anyone. That hatred only causes us pain. Preventing hatred starts by learning to forgive quickly. Let’s talk to our children about forgiveness and how it releases us from pain more than it does the other person.
“Forgiveness is not an occasional act; it is a constant attitude.” – MLK
9. Stand up for what is right.
MLK’s stance on justice was obvious. He discouraged keeping quiet in the face of injustice and standing up for what is right.
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” – MLK
If our children see bullying or an injustice happening to others, encourage them to stand up for the victims and do what is right, even if it goes against what is popular.
10. Live life with purpose.
This can be a big lesson from MLK for our littles to learn and grasp, but I believe it’s a lesson that we need to exemplify ourselves to teach our children. Live for something. Make a purpose in your life. It could be big, or it could be small. It is important that we learn to be passionate and that we learn to love and give to a cause bigger than ourselves. This is why we were created . . . to fill our lives with purpose.
“I submit to you that if a man hasn’t discovered something that he will die for, he isn’t fit to live.” – MLK
11. Have faith.
Martin Luther King Jr. was a man of great faith who delighted in doing God’s will.
His faith in God was evident in his thoughts, actions, and speech throughout his life. Believe in yourself and believe that God is with you every step of the way.
12. All things are possible.
MLK inspired greatness in people. He showed us that the human spirit has so much power to accomplish whatever we set our hearts and minds to do. For him, “impossible” was not an acceptable word. He had a dream for a future where segregation is history and everyone is treated equally regardless of skin color. Whatever your child’s dreams are, they are possible. Work hard, never give up, be kind to others, and follow our purpose. We will succeed!
Thank you, Martin Luther King Jr, for inspiring, teaching, and guiding this nation. Thank you for the opportunities you’ve given millions and millions of people and the hope you’ve instilled for a brighter future.