“I’m going to punish you” admonished the 4 year old “mommy” to her 4 year old “daughter,” both children at play in the “Housekeeping Center” of their preschool classroom. That is my favorite place to observe kids at work, reenacting scenes from their lives.
“Playing” out their real life experiences is not only a way that children process and make sense of their lives, but it is also an example of how children mimic their parents’ behavior.
Regardless of age, your children are watching you, absorbing everything that you do and say…the good, the bad, and the ugly. And because you are Daddy, everything you do is right, good, acceptable, and the way it’s should be. Even the thing that is not really okay becomes acceptable because you, beloved and respected parent, are doing it.
Children see their parents as the authentic examples of “the rules of the road.” Even when he has been told to do or not to do something, if Dad does it (or doesn’t do it), that is the essence of the rule. Exceptions are hard for the child to process.
I have blogged on this topic–parent modeling—many times before. I wrote about the dad who spent his entire dinner out with his family on his cell phone, the mom who drank her Diet Coke while expounding on the evils of soft drinks. But I keep trying to make my point because everywhere I go, I see parents blowing it. The most recent case was the mom who was putting on her mascara in the car as she drove (yes, the car was moving), while her daughter was next to her in the passenger seat. Nice example of driving safely!
Whether your child is just learning polite behavior or will soon be a driver, he learns more from living with and observing you day to day than from being reminded, admonished, or punished.
Regardless of age, every day, everything, every single thing your child observes you doing, teaches him how to BE in the world. If you do it, it must be okay. And I am not talking about just the little things.
If you roll through that stop sign, your soon-to-be-driver learns that way to stop.
If you answer “just this one text” at the dinner table, your tween sees that the rule isn’t firm.
If you speak rudely to your wife, your son learns that it’s okay to treat his mom or girlfriend the same way.
If you fail to say please or thank you, why does your child need to say them?
If you eat the foods that are ”junk,” your child will want some too.
If you call the driver in front of you “stupid!” can “stupid” really be a forbidden word?
If you leave your undies on the floor in the bathroom, why should your son put his in the hamper?
If you drive with a Starbucks in one hand, so will your newly minted driver.
If you don’t make your bed, why should your child make hers?
If you yell at your child in anger, watch him yell at you.
The list is endless. Pay attention and you will see.
Children spot hypocrisy far more easily than you might expect. The days of do as I say and not as I do are long gone. Your children will do what you do.
While you may not see the impact of the model you provide today or tomorrow, I can promise that you will see it one day either in your child’s positive behavior or by having it thrown back in your face.
And so I remind you: Be the person you want your child to be.