Some things are best taught through example. We teach our kids 100 percent of the time through our actions; when your words and deeds don't match, they notice. Why not take advantage of the fact that young people watch and imitate our every move? Here are three areas where you can apply a little attention and end up teaching your children a whole lot:
1. Show 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 of it! It can be hard to remember that drooling toddlers and defiant preschoolers (not to mention feisty school-aged kids and surly teens) are intelligent human beings. But it's true, they are. Intelligent, whole humans, completely deserving of your love, attention and respect. Often, developmental drives (along with garden-variety stresses) push their behavior in directions we dislike. If we can keep their wholeness at the forefront of our minds, we can likely respond better -- and with more love and respect.
2. Be humble.
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 is 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.
3. Model emotional competence.
Children experience their emotions intensely -- just as we once did before we learned that expressing strong feelings was looked down upon. We're inclined to "maintain" our emotions in front of children, but this is totally inauthentic. Kids need to know that emotions are OK to have, feel and express. 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 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 try to cover up how we feel, our children still know how we feel. Our denial merely confuses them and sends a mixed message.
It's the double-edged sword of parenting that your children are always watching you. What you say and do speaks volumes -- aim to be a positive example. Your kids will thank you. Eventually.
You might have to model a little patience first.
Follow Sarah MacLaughlin, LSW on Twitter: www.twitter.com/sarahmaclaugh