Don’t Look Now, But Your Kids Are Watching!

By Rena Reese

Ask any parent for his or her greatest hope for their child’s future and you will likely get a similar response from all of them. We all want our kids to grow up to be healthy, happy, contributing members of society. Oftentimes, that phrase will roll off the tongue as though we memorized it when reading our parent manual’s mission statement.  Of course there is no manual on how to raise those happy, healthy, contributing kids, but there is something infinitely more powerful than words on a page. It is your example. Each day you are starring in an episode of “The Parent Show” and your kids are watching and listening more attentively than you might think.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said it best when he mused, “What you do speaks so loud that I cannot hear what you say.”  Your kids are learning how to communicate, relate to others, and set boundaries when they watch you do each of these things. They are learning about character, values and integrity simply by watching you carry on with your day. They will learn how to advocate for themselves, make and keep commitments and care about their community to the degree that they see you do these things.

The simplest of things can teach a myriad of lessons. For example, did you return the incorrect change to the store clerk or celebrate in the parking lot that you got an extra ten-dollar bill? Did you shovel the snow-covered driveway of your elderly neighbors and decline their grateful and gracious offer for compensation? Do you say “yes” to every request from bake sale baking to heading a committee, even though you feel overwhelmed by your workload and are well over-committed?  Your children witness these blips in time and will call up these examples and apply them in their own lives one day.

Years ago I was out and about with my children doing some errands.  The three of them were secured in their car seats in neat row behind me. At a red light I asked them if they could tell me what a red light meant on the traffic signal. A chorus of voices singing “stop” filled the car. I then asked the meaning of the green light and again they proudly called out in unison, “Go!” At that point I punctuated the lesson with, “That’s right kids, and a yellow means slow down.” There was then an atypical silence for a car filled with three children. Finally, one little voice replied, “No mommy, not slow down, yellow is hurry up!” Emerson was right. This little human being had been watching for miles from the backseat and my verbal lesson for them was not congruent with my actions; I usually did speed up at yellow lights!

If you don’t want your child to ask his friend to lie for him and cover his whereabouts when he’s 17, don’t ask him to tell Aunt Edna you are in the shower when you don’t want to take her phone call.  It is possible you may not feel comfortable having your every move watched and emulated, especially if you feel you had a less than idyllic role model growing up. Comfortable or not, the fact is few people will have a greater influence on your children in their early years than you will.  There will be coaches, teachers and mentors as your child grows, but you and your ways are being downloaded into your child to such a great degree that it is staggering to know the true magnitude of your example.

Questions to consider when your kids are watching:

  • How do you speak aloud about your body, diet, and parts of yourself you consider unattractive?

  • Do you get over disappointments quickly or get stuck in a funk?

  • Do you set boundaries with your time and make sure to care for yourself?

  • Are you truthful or will you fib to get out of a lunch with your mother-in-law, a PTA meeting or a responsibility at work?

  • Do you forgive easily or hold a grudge until you can’t recall why you were even mad?

  • Do you speak respectfully to people in service professions, even when you are flustered or aggravated?

  • How is your driving? Do you cue other drivers verbally or with hand signals while your kids are in the car?

  • Do you gossip while little ears are listening?

  • Do you make choices and statements that are fear based?

  • Do you find ways to share your gifts and abilities in support of others with no expectation of a return?

Whether you are at home, in a social setting or engaging the world in the day-to-day events of life, your kids are always observing you. Psychologists agree that kids observe and then imitate their primary role models. Here are some ways to positively impact the messages they receive from you.

Give Your Undivided Attention:  When you are having a conversation with your child about his day, give him all of your attention.  If your cell phone rings, reach over and silence it without breaking your gaze from you child.  You will be sending several non-verbal messages to your child.  These messages include, “This call is not more important than you.”  “You have my full attention.”  “What you have to say is important to me.” Being fully present will enable them to better deal with the time you do have to spend on the phone, the computer or working.

It’s Not Us, It’s Them:  When you are in your car with your child and you meet up with a seemingly rude or aggressive driver, make it about the other driver, not you. Instead of responding aloud with an assessment of their lack of intelligence and driving skills or pinning down the gas pedal to retaliate, shift to a compassionate stance. Respond by saying something like, “Wow, he blew past us so fast that I bet he has a kid who really has to use the bathroom!” or “Perhaps his wife just called and she is having a baby!” These will train your child to see road incidents not as an insult, just something going on with the other driver.

Take Responsibility:  If you did it, own up to it. If you broke it, bought it or lost it, take responsibility. No one wants to get pulled over by the police with their kids in the car, but if it happens, speaking respectfully and honestly to the officer will show your child, even with an authority figure and a consequence looming, the truth matters. Taking responsibility for that truth is acting in integrity.

The good news and the bad news is that your example wields a lot of power as a parent.  Your children can embody your greatest desires for them. You absolutely can cultivate a child that will grow to be a happy, healthy, contributing adult and this is done in large part by simply being those very things yourself.  If your child sees you engaging in work you love and value, taking care of yourself and effectively managing your relationships and dealings of life, you have given them a great example and gift.  And frankly, enjoying each of these things is a pretty sweet gift for yourself, too.

Read other articles and learn more about Rena Reese.

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