Parenting is a tough gig. Life with kids is chaotic, stressful and amazingly rewarding. Sometimes I forget that I am the example, and that I’m teaching my children about the world through my actions.
As a mom of daughters I find I’m noticing more of the things I’m saying (and sometimes doing) are coming back to haunt me as the girls get older.
When I put on an outfit and take it off in disgust, my kids are watching. When I say derogatory things about my spouse, my kids are listening. When life gets overwhelming and I need to just get away and take some deep breaths, my kids are there, taking it all in. Is this the example I want to set for my girls?
How do we teach children the values that are important in life? Telling them with words is important – no doubt about it. But we can’t go through life using the old adage: “do as I say and not as I do.” It doesn’t work that way.
So how do we teach children through example?
I know it’s contrived, but really, showing your true self is the only way to be comfortable in life. If your children see you one way at home, and another way when you’re socializing they may feel confused.
Thoughts like “Why is my parent acting differently ‘out’ than at home? Which part of them is real? Should I wear a different face when I’m out than I wear at home with my family?” may be running around your child’s head.
Being yourself all the time is a comfort to your children.
Follow your dreams
We all have dreams. Some are attainable, some maybe not, but it’s important to have those dreams and work towards them in whatever fashion you can manage.
Maybe you want to be a writer – write! Or a musician – learn an instrument. I’ve realized I love dance. I’m not good at it, but it makes me feel good and so I do it whenever I can.
Letting your kids see you pursuing something you love, and that means something to you, will inspire them to do the same.
Be proud of yourself and your accomplishments
When you begin to follow your dreams, celebrate your milestones. Maybe you nailed a new piece for your instrument, or wrote a short story. Enjoy that accomplishment, share your news, and go out for a drink to celebrate!
When children see you rewarding yourself for a job well done (or at least completed when you felt you would never get there) it gives them the idea that things really are worth working towards. Perseverance does pay off.
(I struggle with this a lot. People read things online that I’m happy about – new writing tasks etc – but I never bring them up in real life. I’m working on it!)
Make healthy choices for yourself and your family
Life is really just a series of choices. Sometimes we make good ones and sometimes we make poor ones. Now that our choices directly impact others (I’m talking about our kids here) it’s very important to show them that healthy choices are easy to make,
Make the choice to go for a walk in the evening instead of sit in front of the tv. Make a salad with dinner instead of a starch or grain. Drink water instead of juice or pop. These are easy choices to make for a healthier lifestyle.
Environmental choices are important too. Get into the re-use mindset: water bottles, cloth bags, lunch containers over single-use plastics. It’s easy to make these changes, and so important to the health of our planet. Making these changes in your everyday life will mean your children will create less waste over their lifetimes and perhaps foster that important trait of environmentalism.
Even making choices like getting a babysitter and going out with your spouse shows the kids that your relationship is important to you. Getting out without your children in tow also shows that you value your own mental health, and can instill good “self-care” habits into your children as well.
Admit when you make mistakes (and apologize!)
I shout at my kids. Sometimes I say things in the heat of the moment. I get hangry (that’s hungry and therefore angry) and annoyed sometimes. This is normal human behaviour.
I also apologize to my daughters after I’ve cooled off. I explain my feelings to them in hopes they will understand that parents have tough days too. They’ve never held a grudge, and neither have I.
It works in the reverse as well. My kids get angry – they yell and are mean sometimes. And that’s fine because we need to feel our feelings. But once we’re in control again it’s important to talk about what happened, and apologize where necessary.
Mistakes happen in all areas of life. Maybe you got your schedules mixed up and didn’t show up to something important to your children. Or you picked up the wrong flavour of yogurt for their lunches. All we can do in these scenarios is apologize and forgive each other. And this is an important life skill – acknowledging mistakes and being able to forgive.
Check out this article for more ideas: Teach Kids Important Life Values from Skills You Need
What values do you hope to inspire in your children? The list is endless, but we need to be mindful of our actions all the time. Whether we want to or not, we’re teaching children through example.
Kids are little sponges. They soak in and learn from EVERYTHING they see and hear. We spend so much time with our children, it’s no wonder they grow to view the world as we do. Let’s do our best to help them grow into well-rounded, understanding adults. Who’s with me?