10/17/2014 05:10 pm ET Updated Dec 17, 2014

3 Strategies to Beat our Biggest Fears As Parents

A couple of days ago I was watching one of my favorite TV shows and heard Mark Cuban say, "My biggest fear in life, after my kid's health, is that they don't turn out to be jerks... That they don't have a sense of entitlement."

I completely agree with Mr. Cuban. I probably wouldn't have used those exact words, but the message is pretty clear to me. He is saying that he wants his children to be healthy, kind and grateful. In other words, he wants his children to be happy. Don't we all want that for our kids?

As a special education teacher for over a decade, I have learned that all kids are different and they learn in many different ways. However, there is one strategy that works best for all of them - and that is "modeling". It's a simple strategy and we do it every day. It just means that children learn to do what they see their teachers, peers, and parents doing.

We forget how powerful our actions are -- and the messages that are attached to those actions. A small decision might mean nothing to us, but children are aware and learning as they watch us every moment of the day. A small example I see all the time is when parents cross the street with their kids. I see a lot of moms or dads grabbing their child by the hand and running through a busy intersection. They are mostly safe, because the adult knows how to look both ways and how fast the cars are coming, but what kind of message does this send to the child? That it's OK to run across the street while cars are coming instead of walking the extra 20 feet and safely cross at the light. This might not be such a good idea when the child is walking without a parent and decides to cross the street just like their parents did.

Even though we want our children to learn only the "good" things about us, they also learn our bad habits. If we scream, they scream; if we eat junk food, they will eat junk food; if they see us complaining all the time, they will do the same. This is why it's so important to be mindful and be a good example for our kids, if not ALL the time, definitely as much as we can. If we want our kids to learn healthy habits, kindness, and gratitude, the first and most important step is to practice these habits ourselves.

So how do we do this? Let's start by making small, sustainable changes:

1. Let's eat better
I love donuts and fast food. However, I can clearly feel the difference in my body when I eat these foods instead of the healthy, natural, non-processed alternatives. Start by incorporating more fruits and vegetables into your diet and cutting back on fried foods and sugar.

2. Let's do nice things for others
Consciously doing at least one nice thing for someone else will teach your child how good it feels to be kind. It can be as simple as calling grandma and realizing how happy it makes her, to volunteering at a non-profit and explaining to your child how this time spent has changed someone's life for the better.

3. Let's be grateful for what we have
Learning how to appreciate and focusing on the positive things in our lives, instead of focusing on what we are missing or what happened in the past is the best habit we can teach our children. It lets them be present and enjoy life a lot more. Start by talking about the good events in their day, and you can gradually lead up to writing a gratitude journal together.

These small steps will help you and your children build new, positive habits together. You will soon see positive changes that will teach your child how to be healthier, kinder and more grateful.

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Karem Ensley is the author and illustrator of I Am Grateful.