Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.
We’ve heard it before: our children are sponges. They are building habits over time based on what they observe us do more than what we say. We are modeling behavior every single second of the day! This can put a lot of pressure on us as parents, especially because most of us have sinned, have hurt others, have done the very behaviors in the past that we are attempting to teach our children to stay away from. Step 1 in our process of modeling and parenting has to be to accept our imperfect pasts, seek forgiveness where appropriate, and move on by controlling our controllables – we can’t change the past, but we are influencing the future every second whether we know it or not.
In her blog, best-selling author Dr. Meg Meeker specifically calls out modeling three things for our kids: gratitude, humility and boundary setting. My wife and I also intentionally model faith and conflict. Here are a few ways we try (albeit imperfectly) to model these five characteristics for our daughter every day:
We talk a lot about how thankful we are. We verbalize that we are thankful for everything we have at least once a day, pray about it in the morning at breakfast, and at night before bed. We try to instill the concept of wants vs. needs in our daughter, so that she knows she doesn’t get a toy or treat every time we go to the store. We use the phrase “sometimes yes, sometimes no” to enforce being happy with what we already have. My wife will go through our daughter’s toys periodically and fill a bag with older or less-used items to give to charity.
When we talk about ourselves or even imply that we are somehow more significant, smart, or important than others, Dr. Meeker notes that this can lead to pride in ourselves and our kids. We try to talk about the nice things we see or experience from others, while building a healthy sense of self around our daughter. We celebrate when we’ve done something well, but try to avoid evaluating our self-worth or success against others’ failures.
We use and respect the phrase “stop please” (a phrase we picked up from family) to set a clear line on when play gets too rough, or when we’ve had enough of fun teasing or anything, really. We also set boundaries with family and friends on what’s appropriate to say or do around our daughter. If someone is doing something or saying something that is out of sync with our family values/principals, we muster the courage to respectfully discuss it with them and move on from there. If it becomes a pattern of behavior, then that person doesn’t need to be modeling that behavior for our daughter going forward. Setting boundaries on time and attention by eating together at the table, spending quality time without screens, and doing physical activities like walking and working together are also part of our model.
We don’t really yell in our house. It serves no real purpose that can’t be served with a more respectful form of communication. It also models for our daughter that yelling can be an effective way to express ourselves, which is rarely the case. We don’t hit, spank, or otherwise reprimand our daughter in these ways. If she chooses not to listen to something we’ve asked her to do, that’s her choice, and there will be realistic and commensurate loss of privileges that accompany the choice. In other words: in conflict, the punishment will fit the crime. If my wife or I become too stressed or angry to respectfully handle a dialogue, we’ll usually take a time-out and collect our thoughts before re-engaging.
We pray often, read the bible as a family, and go to church. As a relative newcomer to faith, this has been something that has taken me time and conscious effort to learn and model simultaneously, but Jesus is a good teacher – only his modeling can make up for my sins and imperfections and God can be a greater presence for my daughter that I can ever hope to be.
Are parents the perfect models all the time? No way. We’re human.
Have we sinned and done the very things we are teaching our kids to avoid? Unfortunately, yes.
This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try and be the best parents we can be, despite our flaws. We have an obligation to those we love to be the change we wish to see, so that they may experience a lasting peace we may never know.
Look alive, every second is an opportunity to teach our children – let’s not waste it.