Throughout this election season, our children have frequently witnessed adults behaving badly. They have seen innumerable occurrences of disrespect and incivility, and woefully few adults modeling true strength and leadership. Let me offer two stories that exemplify the kind of human character we want our kids to emulate.

An old Zen master was talking to a group of his students when an angry warrior confronted him with insults, even spitting on the master. True to his character, the Zen teacher was undeterred by the man’s behavior, resulting in the warrior stomping off humiliated. The students were perplexed, and asked the master, “Why did you allow him to treat you that way?” The teacher responded, “If someone offers you a gift and you do not accept it, to whom does it belong?” They answered, “He who offered it.” The master pointed out, “The same is true for anger, criticism and disrespect. When they are not accepted, they will forever belong to the one who holds onto them.”

This is one of the lessons I would like for kids to take away from the incivility of this political season. Remind your children that no one has the power to make them feel anything unless they give permission. They are always in charge of their emotions and reactions to people and events. They never have to become victims of discourteous words, rumors or disrespect.

In another story: A ruthless, barbarian general confronted a holy man who was quietly meditating in his cottage. When the holy man refused to acknowledge him as conqueror, he shouted, “Don’t you know who I am? You are looking at the man who could strike you dead without batting an eye!” The holy man raised his gaze to the general and calmly said, “Don’t you know that you are looking at a man who can be struck dead without batting an eyelid?” The general was speechless. He left the man without another word.

Whenever you see your kids refuse to allow the words or actions of others to bother them, you should acknowledge them for displaying strength of character, courage and the wisdom to stay above the fray. These are the behaviors that show true freedom, where you don’t allow others to affect your mood or sense of yourself. You become more inner-directed and are not swayed by popular opinion or cultural imperatives.

It’s been difficult to find good role models for this kind of character in our politicians. Look for stories to share with your kids about leaders like the ones in these tales. That’s the way to teach our children about true power and leadership.

Tim Jordan, M.D., is a behavioral pediatrician who specializes in counseling girls ages 6 through college. For more information, visit