When I was younger, there was a popular saying for parents to say to their children: Do as I say—not as I do.
That doesn’t work. I’m hoping that the people who said it realized that it was a joke, but I honestly don’t know. Children will do what you do far more frequently than they will do what you say. When you think about it, it’s really not fair or realistic to hold children to a higher standard than adults can reach. If parents are not able to keep themselves from using bad language, their children will cuss. If parents say derogatory things about people who are different from them, their children will believe it and repeat it. That’s what prejudices are—judgements made from hearing it from someone else rather than getting the facts on one’s own.
Think of the children around you as being sponges and recorders at all times. They learn by copying…not necessarily by listening. You are always on stage, being watched and imitated.
That’s a rather heavy burden.
Parenting is not easy, and unfortunately, we have little training for it. We tend to parent as we were parented. But the fact that you are reading this blog makes me think that you want to be the best parent you can be. Good for you!!
So going forward, remember that none of us is perfect. The absolute best thing you can do to be a good parent is to consistently love your child, and I suspect you’re pretty good at that already.
The next best thing is to see the good things in your child and help them develop. This also works for ourselves. Looking at the good things in other people helps us stay positive in a world in which negative things are thrown at us on all sides. There are good things happening, but we often have to look harder to find them. On the other hand, if we make that effort, it will help combat depression.
The bonus here is that if we parents work to find the positive in others, our children (and grandchildren) will copy us more completely than if we just say, “Be nice.” Bullying is rampant in our schools, and in society in general. For some reason, when we find the ethics that we choose to live by, we believe that we are right, and anyone who doesn’t agree with us is wrong. Whether or not I believe in something simply doesn’t give me the right to think less of someone for disagreeing with me. Each person is a child of God. If we berate those who are different, our children learn to berate those who are different, and the culture of bullying is perpetuated.
I remember my parents discussing that people from equatorial countries were lazy. They operate on a “do it tomorrow” approach. Then years later I heard a wonderful explanation of where that prejudice came from. People from Europe, particularly northern Europe, have had to plan carefully to be able to have food for the winter for centuries. In these times, it’s not an issue, but it certainly was before. As a culture, then, we have become efficient planners. If we don’t, we starve.
In equatorial climates, however, it is always planting season. If we’re starting to run a bit low on food, we plant more. There’s no winter to fear. There’s no need for planning. Such a simple explanation. But when I was young, I believed my parents. I know better now.
Just remember, you are teaching your children every minute of every day. Hang in there!
Tressa Reisetter has a new book out for parents:
Getting to Know Your Child’s Brain.
Here’s the link: