Our children learn a lot from us.
They ask us many questions, and we certainly do our best to answer. We also teach in other ways, such as providing our kids with new materials and experiences. But (and it’s a big but) we are actually teaching our kids 100% of the time in another huge way — through our own actions. Some things are best taught through example, so why not take advantage of the fact that our children are biologically inclined to attune to us and watch and imitate our every move?
Here are three areas where you can put a little attention and end up teaching your child a whole lot:
Respect: Sure, we can ask our kids to respect us and others. We can prompt them to use polite words and a kind tone of voice. But, how do they really learn respect? By being on the receiving end, that’s how! I know it can be hard to remember that drooling toddlers and defiant preschoolers (not to mention feisty school-agers and surly teens!) are intelligent human beings, but it’s true, they are. Intelligent, whole humans, completely deserving of your love, attention and respect. Developmental drives push their behavior in directions we dislike, but if we can keep their wholeness at the forefront of our minds, we can likely respond better, and with more love and respect.
Humility: We want our kids to know how and when to admit they are wrong. When they are young and in the ego development phase of their lives, they will not be inclined to do so. This is where your consistent modeling of admitting fault and apologizing comes in. Our children need to know we are human and make mistakes just like they do. Since we have the more fully developed brains in the relationship, the onus fall on us to go first. Admit it when you mess up. Say you’re sorry. Mean it. Make amends if needed and move on. They will eventually learn to do the same — what a valuable lesson.
Emotional Literacy: Children experience emotions intensely, just as we once did before we learned that expressing strong feelings was looked down upon. It seems like it would be helpful to show children that we “maintain” or keep it under wraps, but this is essentially inauthentic. Kids need to know that emotions are okay to have: fear, sadness, grief, anger, joy, delight. All emotions are part of being human. Feelings are messages from within, they let us know where we are internally (“How am I doing right now”), and also help us assess where we are externally (“Whoa — is this alley safe?”). As social creatures we are wired to tune into the emotions of others. When we cover up how we feel, our children still know how we feel. Our denial of it doesn’t make it go away, for us, or for them. It merely confuses them and sends a mixed message. Instead, share your feelings by honestly showing them, and talking about them as well.
It’s the double-edged sword in parenting that your children are always watching you.
What you say and do speaks volumes — aim to be a positive example — try for mindful, not perfect. Your kids will thank you. Eventually. You might have to model a little patience first.