What Your Kids Are Learning from You

Whether you want to or not, you do serve as a role model.
—Brooks Robinson, American baseball player

What are your kids learning from you? As parents, we hope they’re picking up good habits and learning how to be caring, principled people. Yet, no parent is perfect. We have our strengths and our weaknesses. The better we know ourselves, the better we’ll parent our kids.

Tips for . . .

  • all parents
    • Get to know yourself more. What are you good at? What do you struggle with? How are you striving to be a better human being?
    • Be intentional about how you parent. Focus on being a positive role model. Be an asset-building parent. Consider reading Parenting with a Purpose.
    • Ask your kids what they’re learning from you: in general, when you’re stressed, and when you’re happy. You may be surprised at what they’re picking up.
    • Notice how you treat the mistakes you make (and the mistakes made by others in your family). Some people are hard on themselves and others just say, “Oops, I made a mistake and need to try again.”
    • Have a sense of humor about yourself. Tease yourself (and others) in healthy ways that make people laugh, such as “Uh-oh, Mom needs to cook. Let’s get the fire extinguisher ready.” Or “How many dads does it take to change a light bulb? One—if we could only get Dad to do it!”
    • parents with children ages birth to 5
    • No one exposes your strengths and weaknesses more than a young child. At this age, children mimic the adults around them. They’ll do almost everything that you do—from helping others to swearing. So think of your child as a mirror that is reflecting everything you do. If you’re not happy with what you see, first change yourself and then teach your child.
    • Children act not only like their parents; they also act like the other adults around them. If your child starts doing something negative that you don’t do, trace the behavior back to the source. Talk to that person and explain how she is influencing your child.
    • Pace yourself. Monitor your stress levels. As a parent of a young child, you have a lot of demands on you in terms of parenting, earning an income, running a home, and more. Young children quickly pick up on your stress levels and moods, so pace yourself and void becoming overwhelmed.
    • parents with children ages 6 to 9
    • If you’ve raised your child to be independent (rather than just compliant), don’t be surprised when your child points out your inconsistencies. For example, your kids may ask you why it’s okay for you to yell when you’re angry, but it’s not okay for them to do the same.
    • Model strong work habits. When your child does homework, sit with him and either complete work that you need to do, help your child with homework, or read a book.
    • A key way to model what you want to teach is by getting your family involved with family service projects. These can be short one-time projects that make a difference. For ideas, visit www.doinggoodtogether.org.
    • parents with children ages 10 to 15
    • At this age, your kids can really push your buttons. These buttons tend to be the weak and vulnerable side of yourself. If your kids hurt you, say so. If you disagree, stand up for yourself without putting down your child. If your kids are right, work to change that part of yourself.
    • Be kind. Be sincere. Many kids at this age can be ruthless with their peers. “They’re not mean,” one mother observed. “They’re caustic!” Model positive ways to interact so that your child feels your home is a safe haven to learn from.
    • Talk about how everyone is always learning and growing. Discuss what you’re learning and improving about yourself. Ask your child what she is focusing on.
    • parents with children ages 16 to 18
    • At this age, you can begin to talk more about complexities of being human, such as being compassionate toward others who don’t make good choices (while also protecting yourself) and working with a diverse group of people.
    • Periodically ask your teenager what makes it difficult to be a teenager. Listen. Ask questions. Ask your teenager how you can support him.
  • Even though they may seem to be in their own little worlds, teenagers are still watching you. They’re still listening to you (even if they’re not doing what you say). They continue to learn from you. Work to live a life of integrity as best as you can so that you can be a good role model for your teenager as she gets ready for adulthood.

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