03/25/2014 11:03 am ET Updated May 25, 2014

Nature's Blueprint Part 6: And You Shall Lead the Way: Parent by Example

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Since children imitate parents from birth, we parent by example, both positively and negatively. What generates our example is the power of our feelings. Our children learn from us at a far deeper level than our words. Children read our hearts, not our minds.

Since our emotions can overpower our intellect, our children are learning from a deeper level within ourselves than just what we tell them. We don't always recognize this.

It may become obvious when, say, we and our child share a quick temper, or stubbornness, or a very reserved demeanor. But it is less obvious, and more common, when we share emotions and dispositions that exist on a deeper, unacknowledged level.

What happens to our children when some of the core emotions we parents feel are unconsciously in conflict with the life we are leading? In that case, our children respond to the reality of what we feel. If we are feeling somewhat trapped in a routine, then no matter how free or responsible we may act, our children will respond to our trapped feelings. This is why we parents are sometimes stunned by the irresponsible behavior of teenagers. Whatever the influence of their peers, our children primarily respond to our deepest spirit.

The solution is to maintain a deep honesty with our kids, connecting our feelings to our actions as much as possible. This will not only help them understand what we are feeling about what we are doing, but it will motivate us to deal with our feelings. In other cases, it may lead us to make changes in our actions, even to the point of changing our lives.

All of this underscores that helping children realize their best selves means we parents also must seek to realize our best selves.

A healthy relationship with our children is based on honesty, living by principles and leading by example. We need the humility and honesty to share our struggles, to face our fears and to take risks.

This reality leads to an important rule in raising children: when in doubt, bet on the truth, which means when we aren't sure about saying the truth, say it or do it. Always err on the side of truth, a vital first step in developing a deep bond or trust with our children. This helps solidify the integrity within our character, which teaches our children to honor and follow their own conscience and integrity.

Our children are always imitating us, whether we realize it or not. So the more integrity we demonstrate -- with our outer self reflecting our inner self -- the less troubled and more balanced our child will become. Moreover, our parenting always needs to be reflected by our emotions, not just by our words.

Our child is not us, and has a unique learning style that often does not fit into our teaching patterns. Sine we are the child's primary teacher, we are always his/her primary source of learning, even when we are not consciously teaching or parenting.

We parents need to honestly determine the character and sense of purpose we hope to instill in our children, and then create the changes and growth within ourselves that will inspire them. This is why raising children is the most powerful force in human growth; we parents are willing to do things for our children that we wouldn't do for ourselves.

Inspiration is job #1 for parents. It is our personal growth that inspires our children.
Children begin totally dependent upon us. Then adolescence deals with "tumultuous change" in the teenage brain as well as peer pressure. It requires our very best example and efforts to lead our children through this challenging period.

It is never too late to change our parenting. Nature has created the right 'ruts' for our parenting -- even after they leave home. So if we commit to doing it right, nature will eventually reward us. Also, at a deeper level, our children are just as concerned about our doing it right as we are.

Last in a Six-Part Series