Five Things Your Kid Needs to See You Doing

A phrase commonly heard from parents to their children is, “Do as I say, not as I do.”  We acknowledge our own shortcomings and hope for better our kids, which is laudable in one way, but incredibly naive and unrealistic in another.  For hundreds of thousands of years, children have been learning how to do most things not by being explicitly told or instructed, but by watching.  Although our modern society seems to have ignored this principle, it was highlighted very clearly by Dr. Albert Bandura of Stanford University in the 1960s when he presented his “Bobo Doll” experiments.  In short: Kids learned a lot – including aggressive behaviour – from watching how adults interacted with the Bobo doll. Acknowledging the power that our actions have over what our children learn, there are five things we need to make sure our children see us doing if we have a hope of helping our children not only be the best they can, but to also create a better society all around...

  1. Exercise.  Let’s face it, many of our kids get their sedentary lifestyle from watching us.  We can preach all we want about getting outside and running around, but if we’re not willing to do it, what lesson are we teaching them?  The fact that exercise – or just being active – is critical to our kids’ health means it’s something we need to be aware of ourselves.  Notably, heading to the gym where your kids don’t see you may not have the intended effect; make sure you’re also out and about with them.

  2. Read Books.  We all know the importance of actually reading to children in helping them appreciate stories and develop a love of reading, but what’s also important is that they see this as a lifelong activity.  If they see you devouring books or spending time searching for ones to read, they will see this as something to enjoy no matter how old you are.

  3. Tell the Truth.  In our society, the idea of not lying to your kids is a weird one.  I know because I’m open about that being how I raise my daughter.  I’m not perfect at it, but I know that if I want her to be honest with me, it starts with me being honest with her.  As parents we worry about how much is appropriate to tell our children, or we think that this little lie won’t matter in the scheme of things.  Then we have teenagers who think the exact same way about the lies they tell us.  If you want that teenager who will come to you and tell you what’s going on, they better see you telling the truth and owning up if you’re caught in a lie.

  4. Say Sorry.  Raise your hand if you remember your parents apologizing to you when they were wrong.  I can imagine there’s only a small number of hands raised.  Somehow parents aren’t very good at admitting mistakes to children.  I don’t know if it’s because we fear being seen as less than perfect, or we fear losing control if they see “weakness”, but whatever it is, it has to stop.  We are raising children who are also unable to say sorry without being forced.  Have you ever wondered why you have to force your kid to say sorry?  If they don’t see it modeled, they need to be told what to do, but even then it may still only happen when you’re there standing over them.  I will add that not only does saying sorry influence how your child will respond to others, but it will improve your relationship immensely.  When you don’t say sorry (when you should), you invalidate their feelings of hurt, sadness, neglect, anger, etc. and it makes it harder for our kids to trust us in the future.

  5. Cry.  Like saying sorry, many parents seem to feel they can’t express sadness in front of their children.  However, this teaches our children that there is something inherently wrong with expressing sadness when in fact it’s actually incredibly healthy.  When we cry in front of our kids, it gives us the opportunity to talk to them about sadness in general, about self-regulation of emotions (crying but not screaming and having a tantrum), about relying on other people for support and comfort, and about how to overcome the feelings of sadness.  Added bonus for dads who can cry in front of their children. Far too many kids believe that crying is a “girl thing” after failing to see fathers express sadness and it is hurting our boys’ development and health.

What do you make sure you do in front of your children to help model it for them?

By Tracy Cassels

September 01, 2014