As a parent, the best thing we can do for our children (besides providing unconditional love) is to lead by example. As a child develops, they look to us as a role model and guide. Observing how we do things, how we interact with others, how we contribute to the world around us, and how we take care of ourselves.
They learn about life from us.
I often notice my children’s eyes on me as I go about my day. I notice how attentive my son is, listening to my conversations with others. I notice how my daughter watches closely as I get myself ready in the morning - how I brush my teeth, put on makeup and look at myself in the mirror. I notice how they mimic poor language when I’ve let one slip in anger here and there.
Quite often we try to enforce good behaviour and healthy habits. And tell our child to do something different from what we do - because we don’t want to see them do the same. Most of us do it at times, myself included. We say one thing and behave differently. Which confuses them, and possibly creates mistrust in the relationship. It might also encourage them to lie - because we do it ourselves.
We can all be wise and tell our children how to behave, but unless we act in such a way ourselves, then it’s a little unfair and unrealistic to expect anything else from them. The ‘do as I say, not as I do’ mentality won’t help with raising well-adjusted children.
The best thing we can do to help children is to lead by example.
“What you want to ignite in others must first burn inside yourself.”
- Charlotte Bronte
If you hope for them to eat well, then eat well yourself. Show them that you eat fresh wholesome foods and finish eating when you are full. And that you move often to stay fit.
If you would like them to clean up after themselves, then guide them on how to do it rather than direct, bribe or threat. Keep your belongings organised and show that you respect the home yourself.
If you would like them to be attentive rather than constantly looking at a screen, then be aware of own habits when it comes to how much time you spend on devices. Make an effort to eat at a table together - to connect - without a phone by your side.
If you would like them to have good self-esteem, then try to stop talking poorly about yourself. Talking about how fat, unattractive, or unsuccessful you are, too often, may lead them to believe that it’s not normal or acceptable to look a certain way. Or that our achievements don’t weigh up to those of others. Refrain from voicing all insecurities in front of them.
If you wish for them to be kind and empathetic and have healthy relationships, then it’s important to be those and have those yourself. Be kind to those around you rather than only thinking of your own needs. Learn to talk calmly when conflict arises rather than talking with hostility. Talk to them about how others might be feeling so that they understand, and develop empathy themselves.
If you would like them to manage their emotions well, then show that you can manage our own. Let them know that it’s okay and completely normal to experience various emotions, and equally important to navigate them healthily and productively.
None of us are perfect by any means.
We all have our moments. We all feel tired and cranky at times, have real adult worries, health problems, and may get a little lazy with looking after ourselves.
What does matter is that we recognise our poor habits or behaviour. We accept responsibility and do what we can to correct a bad situation that may have hurt another. We take steps daily to improve an area that we may be struggling with.
And we talk to the child about it where necessary. We show them that making mistakes is normal. That we all mess up and struggle with things from time-to-time. That we all deal with suffering of some kind throughout our lives. What matters is how we make changes to turn a problematic area around.
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A few really helpful books that I’ve read about helping children thrive are: