We’re often quick to let our children know what company they should keep and who might be the “bad” influences on them. As kids get older, they have a tendency to emulate peers who might dress controversially or behave inappropriately. What we seldom realize, however, is that we are the ones who, first and foremost, end up shaping the adults our children become and who influence most the choices that they make. So what defines “good” parental influence?
We all want to raise kids who know who they are—their personality traits, their own weaknesses and strengths—so that they can make good choices when faced with curiosity and temptations. In order for them to learn this life-enhancing skill, we have to commit to being conscious and mindful in the day-to-day choices that we make while raising our children. But what does that look like in daily life?
Here are three life habits we must master if we want to be a “good” influence on our kids:
1. Take frequent trips inward to reflect on what you value that has been passed on to you from the adults in your life and take a personal inventory of what you do not value and do not want to pass on to your kids. The first part is easy. If you were influenced by parents or adults who were kind and compassionate, those lessons are part of who you are and what you will be proud to pass along to your kids. However, each of us carries baggage from our childhood that has not served us well; that is the self-reflection that we also need to focus on. These habits may be buried deep in our subconscious, but they will nevertheless show up in our lives.
If your mother talked down to your father, chances are that you will do the same to your spouse ― despite your better judgment. If your father had a habit of yelling to be heard, that too may surface in your relationships. Why? Because we have been programmed for these actions during our growing years. These are the kinds of influences that we need to become aware of and pay attention to when we are raising our own children. Fixing the mismatch between what we want to pass on to our children and what we end up passing along to them requires a trip inward to address and heal the burdens of our past.
As Dacher Keltner has said in The Power Paradox, “Life is made up of patterns. Patterns of eating, thirst, sleep, and fight-or-flight are crucial to our individual survival; patterns of courtship, sex, attachment, conflict, play, creativity, family life, and collaboration are crucial to our collective survival. Wisdom is our ability to perceive these patterns and to shape them into coherent chapters within the longer narrative of our lives.”
This is the type of wisdom we call forth when we take a trip inward. Keep in mind, these patterns become most apparent when we are in conflict with our children. Repetitive disagreements are the markers that illuminate the deeper issues we need to address. They are an invitation to heal and grow. And when we become conscious of how we act and why, we can influence our children to lead a joyful life!
2. Accept and respect children for who they are and what they stand for. Each child comes into this world with his or her own unique gifts, traits, and quirks. Judging our children and trying to fit them into societal molds hampers their spirit and their innate ability to thrive. It prevents them from learning the life lessons they need to grow. When we accept and respect them, that forms the foundation of our children’s self-understanding, self-respect, self-worth, self-confidence, and self-esteem.
We teach our kids to accept their siblings, peers and friends, and to treat them with respect. Yet we often find ourselves asking our kids questions like, “How come your sister can listen and you don’t?” Or “If dumb Joey next door can accomplish this, why can’t you?” Or “You’re the only kid in class who argues with your teacher. What’s wrong with you?”
When faced with repetitive challenges, flip your reaction to a response. First balance your child’s emotions with “This must be hard for you.” Then jog his or her intellect with “What do you want for yourself from this class?” or “Why do you feel you have to defend yourself with this teacher?” When we accept and respect children, we avoid jumping on an emotional train and instead become fully present with them. That way we build trust, a connection and a deeper relationship with them. This then helps kids understand themselves. The tone of voice we use with our children feeds their inner voice. Speaking to them kindly ― especially in adversity ― teaches them strong communication skills that will benefit them in every walk of life.
3. Make sure your influence is worth passing on. We can only teach our children to experience the true essence of life if we know how to do so ourselves. Creating experiences for a joyful life is truly in our own hands. Let your choices be guided by honesty, integrity, values, and morals that leave a trail worth following. That means exemplifying a life of growth and love. Give your children core values that will help them cope with life’s challenges. Don’t just serve your own family unit but apply your efforts to your extended family as well. Shower your hospitality on your neighbors and community. Set standards for what’s most important in life—not things but connections to other people.
We can only introduce our children to humility when we are humble ourselves. We can only teach our children to honor commitments if we do so ourselves. We can only advocate a good work ethic if we own one ourselves. Life is not hard. It can be as much fun as we want it to be. Infusing fun and laughter into your day-to-day life with children imprints memorable legacies and influences.
The truth is that we should exert very little effort in teaching our kids anything! If we embody our ideals, our children will be influenced by those through sheer osmosis. It might seem like we are our children’s leaders. We are not. We help raise them for a short period of their life—from birth to 17 or 18 years old. After that, they grow their own wings and lead themselves through their own lives. But what we do do is influence the lifelong choices that they make by the life habits that we choose while they are under our influence, in our home and in our family.
While we are in the midst of the merry holiday season, take a journey inward and identify how you want to positively influence your children. Implement those choices now to amplify the joy of this time of year and for a lifetime.
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