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You know that phrase, “You are what you eat”? I tweaked it for parenting. “You teach what you are.” Brigham Young once said, “We should never permit ourselves to do anything that we are not willing to see our children do. We should set them an example that we wish them to imitate.”
I loved that quote. I often add “Example” to lists of ways to solve behavior issues. If your child is consistently doing something you don’t like, the first thing you need to do is look at the caregivers in your child’s life and figure out who is doing it. Even with Brayden, who is at school for several hours five days a week, and who plays with friends, I find 98-99% of the behavior he displays that I don’t like is rooted in either my husband or me. And since I am around more than my husband, most of it is me.
It isn’t even always something necessarily bad the way I do it. It is just that children are proficient at exaggeration and inefficient in understanding context.
An example is the way Brayden would question things. If he wanted to know more about something, he would ask in a very rude way. “Then why are you pouring it that way then?” It wasn’t so much the words, but the tone and slight head shake he gave when he said it.
I did my introspective survey and realized I ask similar questions. “Why are you out of bed then?”
The problem is that Brayden doesn’t have the knowledge I have; I asked questions like that when a child tried to “pull a fast one on me.” Brayden thinks he knows almost everything, but of course he doesn’t. So this was not working.
I needed to sit down and have a talk with him about how he was asking, why it wasn’t okay, and how he could ask questions in a better way. I also determined that I needed to stop asking questions in the way that led to him talking this way. Whether or not the exact way I was using it was okay or not is pretty irrelevant to me right now. I am capable of speaking differently and my child was developing a habit of speaking disrespectfully to other people.
Sometimes parents wonder why their children scream and fight. The first thing I suggest is they stop screaming and possibly fighting. If it is not okay for a 3 year old (insert any age here) child to yell, then it is absolutely not okay for an adult to yell.
McKenna right now will roll up her sleeves any time she sees my sleeves rolled up. This is an example of a child doing something the parent does that is neither good nor bad. It just is. It is an example of how closely our children pay attention and want to do things just like us. McKenna will also eat her food the exact same way my husband eats it. Pepper? She needs it, too. She wants her food just like Daddy’s.
Being and example of what you want your child to do isn’t all about avoiding bad examples or cute mimicking behavior. It is also about being an example of the good you want your child to be.
You teach what you are.
If you are someone who is kind, someone who serves, someone who works hard, someone who uses time wisely, someone who shares, someone who reads, someone who is tidy, someone who is loving, someone who is faithful, etc., your child will grow to be that person, too.
As Kaitlyn gets older, I see so much how hard she is trying to emulate me. I see her tenderly help McKenna when she needs it. She is kind and patient. Today she told me when she is a mom, she wants to be just like me, know all the things I know, teach her children the things I teach mine, and do the things I do.
I of course love that comment. At least as a three year old, she loves the way I parent 🙂 But her comment also brought to reality the awesome responsibility I have on me. She is actively and consciously studying my every move so she can be like me. How important is it that I set a good example for her! How important is it that I be that person I hope she can be.
Think about your own parents. How many of you have found yourself doing things your parents did, even if you don’t want to? How many of you have tenancies you fight daily that your parents did? How many of you have great qualities you display that you never knew you had, and you know your parent has?
An example for me is patience. I would have never called myself a patient person before I had Brayden. But as soon as I became a mom, I was suddenly the most patient person alive. My Mom marveled at how incredibly patient I was. So did my husband. So did I! I knew it was because my Dad is amazingly patient as a father. I can only remember my Dad losing his temper one time (other than when he was playing basketball). The interesting thing is that there are stories that have been handed down for generations about his father being super patient (my Dad can only remember one time his Dad lost his cool, and it was something to do with my Dad almost killing himself), his father’s father being super patient, and so forth. Perhaps there is something in our genetics, I don’t know, but I do know for sure that I learned incredible patience from my Dad, and he from his Dad, and he from his Dad, and so forth.
So if your child has habits or character traits you think needs to be improved on, look at the example your child sees and determine if first your, your spouse, or other authority figure in your child’s life needs to improve first.
You need to be who you want your child to be. You set the example. You will teach what you are.