Yes, we should phrase our words carefully and raise self-confident children. We should establish boundaries and follow through with consequences. And we should discuss the importance of being kind and empathetic to others
But those words are ineffective if we don’t abide by one simple rule.
Coined by author Brené Brown, we’re reminded that:
The way we raise our kids starts with our behavior.
For instance, what happens when we insult our appearance, all while telling our kids that beauty is within? Or the times we’ve told them to speak kindly to others, only to yell on a regular basis?
We can’t tell our kids to do one thing, abide by certain rules, or hold values when we don’t do them ourselves. Of course, we’re not perfect—we all have off-days. But if we don’t regularly align actions with words, then we’re missing out on one of the most effective ways to teach our kids: through modeling.
Be the Adult You Want Your Child to Be
Modeling the behavior you want to see is one of the most effective ways to teach your kids. How?
Your child will feel like things are fair.
Let’s say you tell your child to pick up her toys at the end of the day. Certainly a good habit to instill. But what if you don’t do the same? What if you leave your clutter all over the living room floor? She’ll think it’s unfair that she has to clean up her stuff when you don’t do the same.
Sure, she might clean up, but she’ll do so grudgingly. And she’ll likely resent her chores when she sees the same rules don’t apply to others.
In short, she’ll soon feel like you’re being unfair. In many cases, not all rules apply to adults and children equally. We don’t need as much sleep as they do and can have a later bedtime, for instance. But when every rule seems to favor everyone else but her, she’ll start to resent it.
Your child won’t feel confused.
As I mention in my book, Parenting with Purpose: How to Raise Well-Behaved Children and Build a Strong Parent-Child Relationship, kids model our actions. And the actions that conflict with our words confuse them and create internal conflict. They’re not sure which path to follow. Or worse, they’ll model our behavior despite our admonitions or advice. Our actions don’t match our family values, and the rules feel unfair.
When you model the behavior you want to see, your child will be more likely to obey and follow the rules. After all, she sees that they apply to everyone—adults included. She’ll assume gratitude and humility when you’ve also practiced them yourself. And she knows you value reading over screen time when you pick up a book and not your phone.
The more consistent you are with modeling the behavior you want your child to follow, the more likely she’ll follow suit.
Your child learns better with actions, not words.
If you’ve ever tried to explain to a toddler the importance of being kind to others, then you know that most of what you just said made no sense to her.
But what if, rather than telling her this important value, you show her? You can do this by speaking politely to others around her. Or you show her how to take turns. Maybe you treat others around you—kids and adults—with respect and kindness.
Children, especially young ones, may not always understand our words. But they come fully equipped to understand body language and facial expression. They observe how others behave, including you. And they’ll learn far quicker the values and behavior you uphold through your actions than your words.
Your child will feel respected.
When you’re a little kid living in the world of Big Adults, it’s easy to feel, well… little. You’re supposed to abide by rules you may not understand (“Why can’t I eat cookies for dinner?”). You’re given consequences for misbehavior when none of the adults aren’t. And articulating your thoughts isn’t always the easiest thing to do.
So when you make it a point to model the behavior you expect your child to follow, that’s one extra boost for her. She feels respected, a part of the unit. She’s not just a little person, but an important and respected family member.
An important note:
We’re not perfect. We won’t always keep our temper. We’ll eat junk food and leave a mess on the floor. We might swear or treat another person poorly. But we’re not modeling perfection, nor should we try to.
In fact, the times when we’re not our best is the perfect opportunity to model how to fix it. For instance, we can model humility by apologizing to our kids when we yell at them. We can admit we didn’t do a good job of cleaning up after ourselves. We can resolve to eat better as a family.
You can turn these less-than-stellar situations into a teachable moment. One where you model how you’d want your child to behave when she makes her mistakes, as we all inevitably do.
Modeling the behavior you want your child to adopt is important. And it’s effective. The best way to raise the kind of adult you want your child to grow into is to be that adult. Be the kind, generous person who thinks of others. The one who values hard work and learning. The adult who makes sound decisions and has learned to manage her emotions. When we act like the adult we want our child to be, these skills become much easier to teach than simply through words.
BY GUEST WRITER: NINA GARCIA
Nina Garcia is a mom to three boys—a six-year-old and toddler twins. She blogs about parenting at Sleeping Should Be Easy, where she writes everything she’s learning about being mom and all its joys and challenges. For more tips on parenting and behavior, get her book, Parenting with Purpose: How to Raise Well-Behaved Children and Build a Strong Parent-Child Relationship, now available on Amazon — snag the Kindle version free through October, 22nd.