The Mirror: When You See Your Bad Habits in Your Child

By: Tricia Cornell

The sound of it stopped me right in my tracks: A harsh, “Cut that out! That is not okay!” It almost sounded like she was snarling. Where had my daughter learned to talk like that to her little brother? It sounded so terrible coming from such a sweet little kid. And where had I heard that sound before? Oh, no. I knew exactly where I had heard that before, and where my daughter had gotten it. Straight from my own mouth. Did I really sound like that? Oof, sometimes I did.

That was not the way I wanted my kids to talk to other people. And it wasn’t the way I wanted to talk to them. But I had to hear it from my own daughter to recognize my own behavior. It was just like having a mirror held up to my face during my ugliest moment.

We’ve all got behaviors we’re not proud of. I’ve got a short temper. I’m a chronic procrastinator. And I’ve been known to sneak ever-growing slivers of brownies out of the pan, once it’s been left on the counter. Disliking those behaviors in myself makes it all the more painful when I see glimpses of them in my kids.

Since my adolescent plan to have fully banished all bad behavior by age 25 and emerge into adulthood as a near-perfect human being who never eats an extra brownie or puts off work until the last minute didn’t pan out, I’m in the sticky position of trying to raise kids who are better than me. And I’m guessing I’m not alone.

Beyond bad habits, some of us have struggled with addictions to smoking, drinking, gambling, eating, whatever. Some of us took some pretty big risks as teenagers and young adults. Some of us have a poor body image or low self-esteem. In fact, if there’s anybody out there who doesn’t fit into one of those categories, I’d really like to meet you. And yet, as parents, I think most of us are working hard to raise that mythical person.

While perfection should never be a goal, here are some thoughts as we all work toward raising the next generation to be just a little bit better than we are.

  • Be honest.
  • It might seem like the best way to raise those impossibly perfect human beings is to hide our own shortcomings from them. But kids are smart. They see the shrinking pan of brownies. They see you looking sideways in the mirror at yourself and scowling. As they get older, they see may find those old pictures of us holding beer cans. It does kids good to know their parents are fallible. Being honest about our failings can keep them from feeling like they have to live up to some impossible ideal.

    If you’ve got teens and tweens who are confronting tough choices, like friends starting to drink and smoke and be sexually active, they’re probably going to ask you about your own adolescence. Be upfront without going into too much detail. And then talk with your kids about the expectations they have for their own behavior and how you can support that. Make it clear that your household has rules and “But you did it, Dad!” will never be accepted as an excuse.

  • Work together.
  • When you notice one of your own bad habits in your kids it can be an opportunity to try to improve together. Maybe your son is feeling down about his body and you’ve felt the same way. You could both find something positive and fun to do with your bodies every day for a week, like a bike ride, yoga, or a video dance game, and talk about how it makes you feel. Maybe you and your daughter both have bad tempers (ahem). Put a jar on the counter where each of you can put a quarter when you slip up. When the jar is full, pick a charity and make a donation.

  • Remember, you’re separate people.
  • This is hard for a lot of parents, myself included. I have to remind myself that, whether she learned them from me or not, my daughter’s behaviors and habits are hers and hers alone. Because we can all be pretty tough on ourselves, we tend to be tougher on our kids when their behaviors are eerily familiar. We can’t fix ourselves by fixing our kids.

  • Have a sense of humor.
  • You know, we’re not the only people our adorable little mirrors are reflecting. When my son, then 6, mouthed a perfectly timed expletive after a bad roll of the Yahtzee dice, I stopped short and then breathed a sigh of relief: That one wasn’t from me, it was from my mother-in-law. (And yes, after I stifled my laughter, we had a little chat.)

    Lady in Mirror Image via Cea. on Flick'r.

    4

    good article.

    5

    I love this comment, “Being honest about our failings can keep them (children) from feeling like they have to live up to some impossible ideal.” It is so true! Only when we admit our own imperfections, can we accept them in our children. I think it is one key to raising responsible, caring teens. Your other reminders: to work together, realize that our children are separate from us and having a sense of humor are all excellent advice. Our children need to feel as though we enjoy being with them, not always, of course, but basically we have to like them and show it. Plus, we need to remember that we are their role models.

    For a short video on parenting that may be of interest, see:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YETArqHBmNg&feature=player_embedded

    I love this comment, “Being honest about our failings can keep them (children) from feeling like they have to live up to some impossible ideal.” It is so true! Only when we admit our own imperfections, can we accept them in our children. I think it is one key to raising responsible, caring teens. Your other reminders: to work together, realize that our children are separate from us and having a sense of humor are all excellent advice. Our children need to feel as though we enjoy being with them, not always, of course, but basically we have to like them and show it. Plus, we need to remember that we are their role models.

    For a short video on parenting that may be of interest, see:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YETArqHBmNg&feature=player_embedded

    Post new comment