We all hope that our children will grow up to be men and women of good character. In today’s culture, it can seem like an uphill battle. But while our children may be watching the celebrities of the world, there is someone else who they are watching even closer: You. Here are 10 values we parents need to model, because our children are always watching.
Do you ever hear yourself say something and then think, “Oh my gosh! That sounded just like my mother!” We laugh and joke about it, but it’s so true how we pick things up from our parents without even knowing it.
I love watching my daughter be a mom. She’s sweet yet strong, fun but firm. And every once in awhile, I hear myself in her. She will say something, and whether it’s the actual words she uses or the tone of her voice, that’s definitely me!
Our children are always watching what we do and listening to what we say. That might be hard to believe sometimes, especially when we ask them to clean their rooms 100 times and then they say they didn’t hear us! But children are like sponges, absorbing everything around them. This means that while we may tell our children to do one thing, if they see us doing the opposite, our words are meaningless.
Here are 10 character traits we as parents need to model for our children:
This is probably number one on my list. I just hate when people lie; it really is a pet peeve of mine. Parents can so easily lie without even meaning to, especially if it’s for a good reason. We say we are busy to get out of going to a party, or that we are out of ice cream because you don’t want your child asking over and over.
Parents lie to kids all the time to get them to do what they want…”We can’t go to the toy store because it’s closed.” “That’s the best drawing I’ve ever seen.” “Santa is watching!” And while many psychologists disagree with how much lying is okay, or if it’s okay at all, I strongly believe that it’s simply never a good thing.
Our children may not find out that the store wasn’t really closed, but if you lie occasionally, even if you truly believe it’s in your child’s best interest, eventually you will mess up and they will learn the truth. This means they will know you lied. And if you lie to them once, they will assume you will lie to them again. This is hurting the trust you are building with your child. It is also teaching them that they don’t have to take responsibility for their actions. It’s a slippery slope when you lie to, or in front of, your children.
I think this one is pretty high on the list, too. Our culture has been changing to one where those in charge have less and less authority. Late night comics make fun of politicians, the media gives police officers a bad name, and parents are quick to defend their children and blame the schools for problems. While there may be validity to much of this, there is a difference between standing up for what you believe in, and trashing those authority figures.
When we make fun of, or undermine, those who are in at the reins, our children see our lack of respect. Why should they do what they are told, or speak with respect, if we don’t?
Even in the home, parents should speak with respect to each other and to the children.
When we parents do something wrong, we certainly want to be forgiven. No one likes having a mistake held over their head. We need to forgive others, in front of our children. We also need to forgive our children. No one is perfect; we all mess up from time to time.
When we don’t forgive, we are basically holding on to anger. That anger can build up and destroy relationships, create negative attitudes, and even lead to depression. When we extend grace to others, we are showing our children how to let things go. We are teaching them how to have peace.
No one should hold their feelings inside. We all want, and need, to be heard. Bottling things up leads to problems down the road, and can come gushing out in inappropriate ways and hurt relationships. But just letting go and spilling everything and yelling and screaming isn’t the way to go either.
I was mad at my hubby for something, and all that anger had been just sitting there, bottled up and unresolved. One day, we were all in the car, and as my hubby backed out of the driveway, he scraped the car along the basketball pole. I totally lost it! I yelled and yelled and got out of the car, slammed the door, and kept yelling all the way to the house. I even kept yelling to an empty house. I was furious! And then, I was ashamed. I couldn’t believe I acted that way. Clearly showing not one ounce of self control! My daughter still mentions it once in a while, saying she has never seen me that mad. We can joke about it now, but what a horrible example to my kids.
Fortunately, our kids are pretty forgiving, and I talked to them about what happened. And I apologized. So yeah, stuff happens, and it’s not the end of the world. But when this sort of thing happens on a regular basis, our children will follow suit and yell and carry on when they don’t get their way.
This comes in many forms; typically when we think of being responsible, it’s for taking care of our things or doing a job well. As parents, this can range from putting the cover back over the grill after we use it, to being careful with the lawn mower we borrowed from a neighbor. It also can mean cleaning the bathroom thoroughly, getting our kids to school on time, and going above and beyond at work.
We also need to be responsible for ourselves and our actions. When we make a mistake, blaming another person or our circumstances means we aren’t taking responsibility for our own actions. Did something wrong? Own up to it, apologize for it, and then do your best to fix it. This is showing your child how to be responsible, rather than play the victim.
This one can be tough. As parents, we’re constantly having to deal with issues, put out fires, and take on the world. We end up stressed and overwhelmed, and by the end of the day we’re at the end of our rope. Trying to be patient while helping our child with homework, or listening to a veerrryyy long story, can be trying to say the least. But when we try to rush through things just so we can move on to the next thing is simply not productive, peaceful, or a place we can find our joy.
Take time to sit and listen, to teach, to work through the ins and outs of the day. Whatever important ‘thing’ you have going on can wait. In a world where instant gratification is given top priority, I challenge you to go against the grain and slow down.
We need our children to be patient. Patience helps children and adults alike be more successful, better problem solvers, and have better relationships. The next time you’re tempted to start rushing through an activity, or simply start complaining about waiting in line, stop and think about how this looks to your child.
When our children see us help a stranger, bring dinner to a neighbor, or give to a charity, they begin to realize the world does not revolve around them. We broaden their picture of the world, and teach them to love and serve. Even right at home, parents can instill kindness to a younger sibling or a grandparent, saying things like, “We need to help your little sister get her shoes on because she’s still too little,” or “Let’s go rake the leaves in Papa’s yard since it’s getting too hard for him.”
Giving words to our emotions is another way to model compassion. When we watch the news or a tv show, talk openly about how you feel. Does a violent act make you feel sad and helpless? Let your children know simply by talking about those feelings out loud, even if it’s only to yourself.
Standing up for someone is yet another way to model compassion. As adults, we aren’t in the position too often to physically have to stand up for someone, but we certainly can speak up in defense to an unkind remark about another human being.
Being polite basically means you are giving another person consideration over yourself. We teach our children at a very young age to say, “Please” and “Thank You.” It’s a great start! And while we might continue this over the years, be sure you’re doing the same. Every time.
I think most of us are fairly polite with others, but I’ve made it a habit to always say please when I ask my own children to do something, and I follow it up with a thank you. Shouldn’t they receive the same courtesy we give to total strangers?
Simple things like holding open a door, saying hello after someone says hello to you, and shaking hands when you are introduced are all important acts to model for your child.
Being polite may not seem like that big of a deal, but honestly, those same skills will help your child make friends and leave good impressions with adults. Later on, being polite will help in the workforce and whenever dealing with people.
Many years ago I attended a conference on teaching children with learning disabilities. Something that the speaker said has stuck with me all these years. He told us that being fair doesn’t mean everyone gets the same, it means everyone gets what they need.
Children make us parents feel guilty when they don’t have the same toys or phones or vacations as their peers. What do we always hear? “That’s not fair!” Really? Even in discipline, we hear the same things. “Why didn’t he have to sit in the chair?” “How come Joey gets to do that and I get in trouble?”
Ah, life…so tough for those kids. Don’t we as adults do the same thing? “Why did John get a raise when I didn’t?” “She got invited to the party…where’s my invitation?” We don’t know the whole story. Maybe John did something above and beyond we aren’t aware of. Maybe that invitation didn’t come because we’ll get invited next time. Whatever the situation, let’s first think about what we know to be true, and simply move on.
John Wesley said, “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.” I love this quote. We tend to think just about money when we think of the word generosity. But we can be generous with our time, our talents, our things, and our kindness.
When we volunteer to be our daughter’s soccer coach, or help run the school book sale, or even to sit down and help our child with homework, we are giving of our time. Delivering groceries to a struggling family or handing a dollar to the man on the corner shows how we can help with our money. Giving kind words of encouragement and support, helping to host a baby shower, and sharing your knowledge and experience all show other areas of generosity. We are simply going above and beyond, giving more than we take.
We parents sure have a lot of weight on our shoulders. Seems like we have to do everything right, all the time, to help get our kids to where we’d like to see them. The good news is this is simply what we strive for, to be aware of our words and actions. We all mess up sometimes, but if these are traits we can typically be modeling for our children, they will follow our footsteps.
We want so much for our children; when we start living these traits our in our own lives, our children aren’t the only ones who will benefit. Which trait are you going to start improving on in your own life?