Setting a good example for our children is always a good idea, because as the old saying goes, “Little eyes are always watching.” The way we speak and behave can rub off on our offspring, even when we aren’t paying that much attention to what we say and do. For example, we adults don’t give a thought to a conversation we’re having on the phone or standing in line for the customer service desk, but our children are more attentive and perceptive than we give them credit for. When it comes to nature vs. nurture, it’s about 50/50. There isn’t a lot we can do about the nature part most of the time. We’re born with certain genes and traits, and we can’t help where we’re born, or the kind of family we’re born into. We can certainly do more about the nurturing part. Think back to when you were little. Do you remember a specific incident where you saw your parents doing something that was either touching or shocking? Maybe you remember your father fixing someone’s flat tire in the rain, or perhaps your mother drove your elderly neighbor to the supermarket. Such memories not only leave lasting impressions, they can actually shape the behavior of our children as they grow.
Another cliché is that apples don’t fall far from the tree. If this is true, then it may help our children if we’re a little more mindful of how we act around them.
In this stressful, sometimes anti-social, antagonistic culture we encounter today, it may seem even harder to set a good example. But if you were asked, “What are 5 things you want your child to see you do?” they might look something like this:
1. Helping Those less Fortunate.
You don’t have to make a big show of helping those in need, but taking your child along to help out in a homeless shelter, taking an elderly neighbor a box of groceries, driving someone to a doctor’s appointment, or donating clothes to a family whose house was flood-damaged are all examples of how we can teach compassion and charity to our children. Chances are they will adopt those same behaviors just because they observed you doing them as they grew up.
2. Being Happy with Who You Are and what you have.
If your child sees you happy with yourself and where you are in life, then chances are your child will feel secure and happy too. This doesn’t mean that you can’t strive to have nice things or get ahead in life. It simply means being content with what you have. Your attitude can help your child resist the comparisons and competition that accompany peer pressure. Your attitude will also show your children that happiness is intrinsic, not material.
3. Being Health-Conscious.
This can be a tough one. No parent is the perfect calorie counter, the perfect nutritionist, nor the perfect fitness instructor, but if your child sees you practicing good health habits in your own life, he or she will be more apt to practice them too. If you have healthy food in your home, go for walks or swim once or twice a week, and get proper rest, chances are the entire household will follow suit. Making health habits a family affair leaves an even bigger impression. The old parental adage “Do as I say, not as I do” won’t work in this case. Why would your child want to get off the computer to go outside and play if you’re on your own laptop all the time? You have to be the example. If they see you taking the lead, it will lead to lifelong habits that are good for them.
4. Working through a Problem.
Most of the time parents want to shield their children from a problem, and this is normally the right thing to do. But sometimes life hands you a situation that you aren’t prepared for, such as the loss of a home due to a fire, a change in school or home, a serious illness or injury, or the loss of a loved one. This is when you want your child to see you handling a situation in an honest, positive way. Hiding feelings and situations from a child often makes things worse, and your emotions can be as overwhelming to them as they are to you. You’re all in this together, so talking it out, comforting one another, and seeking help are the things they need to see you do. If you deny that a problem exists, react to it in destructive ways, or run from it, your child will learn to do this too.
5. Expressing your spiritual beliefs if you have them.
This doesn’t apply to every parent of course, as spiritual beliefs differ from person to person. Some parents profess no spiritual beliefs, while others make it a priority in their lives. Spiritual practices like attending a house of worship, or prayer, or meditation, or even the cathedral of nature itself can be positive and comforting. If your child sees you cultivating your spirituality or expressing it, they too may learn to think about the sort of beliefs they want to exercise (or not) as they grow older. If they see you being open toward beliefs that differ from yours, it’s likely they will do the same.
by Tammy Ruggles
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