I’m sure you, like me have been out in a public place and had a quiet laugh to yourself when you have heard a small child swear loudly. It is so unexpected, that it catches your attention and the attention of anyone else in earshot.
You have to feel for the poor parent, who suddenly finds him or herself thrust into the limelight as multiple sets of eyes swivel to see who the child belongs to. If you have ever been in this situation yourself, then you know exactly how it feels. If only the ground would open and swallow you up!
It is mortifying but the weird thing is, that often we ask, “Where did they learn to say that?” We are horrified that our little darling would come out with such an expression.
The truth is that in order for them to say it, they have first heard someone else say it. Perhaps its you that talks this way when you believe they are out of earshot. Or maybe you use these words so frequently that you don’t even notice anymore. They could have picked it up at school or from the television.
Wherever it has come from, it sounds so shocking coming from the lips of a wee child.
Children learn more by watching and absorbing from their environment that they will ever learn from the things you try to teach them. Everything they see and hear, they are assimilating until it becomes a part of them.
Imagine your child is a sponge.
A sponge doesn’t have any filters. Whatever you place it on, it will absorb. You can use the same sponge to mop up red wine or to wash the dishes (not that I’m advocating this practice). You can use it to clean the dogs bowl and also to clean the high chair where your child eats their dinner. The sponge doesn’t know or care what you use it for and will always absorb whatever you expect it to.
Your child is exactly the same. Whatever you show them, they will add to their understanding.
Not what you tell them but what you show them.
And believe me, they are always watching!
We must model for our children what we want them to learn. What type of relationships do you want then to have? If you are fighting with your partner, if you don’t show love and kindness to each other, or if there is a lack of respect between you, then that is exactly what your children will bring into their future relationships.
The way you respond to situations and people in your life sets the standard for your kids too. Lets look at an example just to clarify this.
You have a good friend you have known for many years. Something happens and you feel betrayed.
Now you have a choice to make. You can act with dignity and let it go, you can have a mature chat with your friend to get to the bottom of their behaviour, you can respond with kindness and check your friend is okay, or … you can allow your feelings to overflow, become angry and talk about your friend as if they are your enemy. You can feel justified in your emotions and argue with your friend, gossip about them behind their back and cut them out of your life.
You may think this has nothing to do with your kids but you are modelling by your responses what you believe is appropriate behaviour when faced with a difficult situation. Don’t then be surprised if you get a call from the pre-school letting you know your child hit or pushed another child. Just because you haven’t hit your friend, doesn’t mean that your child hasn’t seen that anger and ‘reacting’ is the right way to behave. The behaviour that you choose will be replicated by your child.
This may seem fairly harmless in the beginning, but if your child learns that anger and violence is the right way to behave, then they will carry this with them into ever escalating situations in the future.
And it’s not always the big things that have the most impact. How you feel about the world around you, how you treat others will be the model your kids will adopt.
I have a friend who sometimes makes comments about others that seem very cruel. I’m not sure he realises what he sounds like but the words he uses and the expression on his face have a powerful impact. Unfortunately his son who is now an adult, often behaves in the same way. My friend finds it very difficult to be in the same space as his son as he finds his words shocking. I think in some part of himself he recognises the similarity between them but he truly believes his son is worse than him. The truth is that they are two peas in a pod and neither of them have any realisation of how they come across to others.
The most terrifying model that we show our kids is in how we treat ourselves. This is where they learn the most. What you are prepared to accept for yourself, sets a standard that your children will interpret as love. It’s not the way you love them that will have the biggest impact, but the love you choose to accept for yourself and of yourself.
‘Until you take care of yourself you cannot care for another’ has never been more true than in this environment. You see it everywhere you look. A parent who doesn’t respect themselves enough to take the right actions for their health is mirrored in the child. The parent who wears a perpetual frown is accompanied by a child with the same expression. A parent who reads creates a child who reads.
So the lesson here is a simple one.
Be the person you want your children to become
If you want your children to respect themselves, then show respect to yourself. If you want healthy relationships for your children, choose healthy relationships for yourself. They will follow wherever you lead so be careful of the direction you choose for yourself.
Don’t tell your kids who to be … show them!