I’m sure we’ve all heard the saying ‘A child will follow by your example not by your advice’....... well, something along those lines anyway. Even if you haven’t heard it, it’s a statement that most of us agree to be true yet so easily forget, and though there is power in the tongue, nothing’s more influencing to a child than what they see you do. For example, if you’re telling a child they must eat up all their veggies because it’s good for them and you’re sat their eating cupcakes and cookies, how do you expect them to value your advice? It’s like getting dietary advice from an overweight doctor!
We all know that kids are very smart and they are also very observational. They duplicate everything they see and hear because they’re still learning, and to them you are their teacher (which you are), so they will follow by your example.
I am guilty of this - I will put my hands up! I can remember getting on my son about reading everyday and making sure I got him into the habit of independent reading from a very early age. I would remind him daily to read a book a day, and obediently he would do so, and it really did help him to become the bookworm he is today. But, I remember one day he turned round to me and said ‘Mummy how come you don’t read every day like you tell me to do?’ I had no words because it was true. Why was I telling him to do something that I wasn’t doing myself?
Some years ago, I was on a bus ride and there was a lady on board with her two kids, both boys, one was about 7 years old and the other was about 4 (I’m just guessing). I remember her having this heated conversation over the phone and using all types of profanities and basically airing out her dirty laundry on public transport (No, I was not eavesdropping, she was very loud). Now, her two kids were sat behind her roughing themselves up in a playful wrestling match and I can remember looking at how this 7 year old was handing his younger brother and noticing how similar he was to his mother in terms of his hostile body language, aggression and temperament. Well, during their playful brawl the youngest of the brothers accidently poked his elder brother (the 7 year old) in the eye to which he exclaimed ‘You f***king idiot.’ When his mum heard this she put her conversation to a halt, swung round and started telling off the little boy for using such foul language. In my head I was thinking ‘wait....... wasn’t you just using the same type of language in your phone conversation?’
Now, I know some people would say ‘Maybe he heard it in the playground’ or ‘Maybe he’s seen it on the TV or in a music video ’this could be very true, our children will come across the ‘F’ word and other foul languages and inappropriate behaviourisms through hearing it in or from a range of different places, but as strange as it may sound I almost feel you can tell if a child’s language or behaviour is a reflection of how their parent is around them, especially at a young age. I say this because for me growing up at that age I was probably very aware of these types of words but because my parents never used them around me it would never be within my vocabulary to use in moments of anger or anguish, and so it would be alien to me to even think to use it in front of my parents and still until this day. But, often (and I emphasise on the word often) sometimes a child like the one who was on the bus doesn’t think twice about using such language, it’s almost an instant reaction, second nature to them because mum uses it so often or acts that way so often.
Our kids will be revealed to many things we don’t like, but like they say charity begins at home – that’s an oldie but a goody. Truthfully, I can’t stand when some parents say things like ‘Well they’ll learn about it anyway’ or ‘They’ll hear that word outside anyway.’ That’s not the point! If you’re setting a bad example in your home because your child will come across it anyway, it’s more likely that they’ll think it’s okay to go out and not only disrespect themselves, others around them and probably even you in the future because ‘daddy did it’ or because ‘mummy said it.’
I’ve seen situations like this play out in other circumstances such as obese kids with obese parents, angry kids with angry parents, ignorant kids with ignorant parents, teenagers in toxic relationships with a parent whose in a toxic relationship.... the list could go on.
It’s so hard trying to be a perfect parent – THERE’S NO SUCH THING! We can only do what we need to do and pray for the best. It’s just about being mindful and reminding ourselves that our kids are watching our every move, even when you think they’re not watching! No matter how much you protest to them that that thing is wrong they will only truly listen by seeing it in action. We have to learn to think twice – once for ourselves and twice for our kids.
We need to be the person we want our kids to be – much easier said than done – but it’s very possible! It’s not to say, ‘be perfect’ but to be very aware of those prying little eyes.