Have you heard the saying “You can preach a better sermon with your life than with your lips”? Apparently children believe in this too
We often don’t realize that children have the ability to learn faster by observing others much more than verbal instructions. They majorly learn how to behave by observing and imitating others. Their observational learning isn’t just enclosed to school or home but also to public spaces like malls, grocery stores or playgrounds. They absorb pretty much everything around them to make sense of the right type of behaviour that will be accepted in society. As primary caregivers, parents play the largest role in how children take on different behaviours to make balanced individuals. What they repeatedly watch in their formative years becomes a part of their personality in later years.
While early childhood education programs start inculcating manners, teach them how to understand and express emotions, along with academic advancement, it is eventually up to parents to reinforce positive civic behaviour which ultimately moulds the child’s personality for a lifetime. Despite this being the most obvious, we do end up behaving recklessly which may seem justifiable to us but may be impacting our children negatively.
Here are a few fool proof ways in which you can ensure your children are modelling the right behaviour from you
Watch your tone
As adults, it is easy for us to lose our patience and temper without realising that children are often around us. However, as the role models for your children, it is imperative to grow a mindset of mindfulness. By excusing ourselves when our tempers are high or to using a particular type of language, we can be cognizant of what children absorb from us. Take a leave from their presence and you can sort out difficult situations outside the room/house. How we speak, be it with our parents, friends or even the house-help throws light on the tonality and language that is acceptable. It is wrong to use cuss words or excessive negative words that give children an impression that such usage is acceptable. Additionally, the language used at home or outside will impact the child’s thinking, so be stay away from making any sexist/gender-related/derogatory remarks and comments.
The content that you consume is what they consume too
Children look upto their parents and often try to imbibe qualities from them. This is also the case with the content that is watched/read by adults. As parents, we should be aware of the type of content that is being discussed or watched in the household. Parents should draw a line between children-friendly content vs. content that may trigger negativity, slurs or violence. Simple things like the kind of music parents listen to, or the latest TV shows that they watch become a part of the child’s personality.
Keep your phone away
The curse of the smart phones, while it may be the single most productive tool to own, is that it does take away a lot of family time. Screen addiction is as real among kids as is with adults, so a good way to start is to introspect and review if your screen consumption needs to be altered. It is a must for parents to give their undivided attention and respond to children in a way that inculcates a practice of listening and conversing well in them. Should they converse with you, do keep your phone away and make eye contact at all times to teach them that these skills to engage in a conversation. They will also feel that you genuinely listen to them which in turn will help boost their confidence. Try having family meal times as a no-phone zone or avoid replying to the call or email during important family time. This will inculcate the importance of family time and genuine conversations over technology.
Don’t skip rules, no matter what
Don’t break rules. Imagine its early morning and you are dropping your child to school. There is no traffic but the red light is on the signal. It is easy to jump it since there is no traffic police, but what your child understands by your action is that it is ok to break rules if no one is watching. So simple rules like, no TV while having dinner, also applies to you. It is difficult to make children understand the importance of rules, they are nothing but common sense simplified for masses. Nobody wants their children to grow up into educated adults who lack basic common sense and civic responsibility.
Use the magic words “Sorry, Please and Thank you”
Every time my son walks up to me and passes my phone to me or gets my laptop from my bag, I make it a point to say thank you. It is also important to teach children to say sorry, so even if we make the slightest mistake, don’t hesitate to apologize to them or to others in front of them. It will instil the belief that saying sorry doesn’t make anybody smaller or weaker. Whenever you are happy or grateful let your child know about it, share positive emotions with your children as well as help them understand negative emotions too. Show your child how you handle negative behaviour, if you manage to stay calm and handle the situation positively, you will see your child doing the same next time and vice versa.
Create a safe space for constructive criticism
This applies to everybody that you’re communicating with. As parents it is important that we gauge where the other person is coming from and provide feedback and criticism which is constructive. Stay away from dismissing ideas or activities, instead provide a rationale to your feedback and answer them with possible solutions. This will help children learn the same and apply it to their peers. Providing positive criticism and rational feedback ensures that children learn the knack of interpersonal skills which will largely benefit them later on.
Environmentally conscious behaviour
What kind of a world do we want to leave for our children? We all want our children to be mindful and kind individuals. A large part of this begins from our work at home and how we teach them to be aware of the environment. With climate change being one of the most pressing issues of our times, we must show them that being environmentally friendly is not only important but also a necessity. Carrying multiple cloth bags for groceries, helping stray animals in the weekends or taking part of regular tree planting initiatives is a good way for them to start early and be devoted to the cause. It also brings children closer to parents and the community at large because they feel the belongingness towards something bigger.
Time and tide waits for none
Teaching children punctuality is not only a virtue but also a life skill that enables them to excel in all facets of life. They can model punctuality right from the way you get them ready for the school bus or the time at which you reach for your flight. As parents we need to keep our end of the bargain and be on time when we give a certain timeline. If we say we will be home by dinner or by 8pm, for instance, then we should adhere to the timeline. This shows them the importance of a promise and timeliness. A good way to make children proactive about punctuality is to let them set their own deadlines, and complete those tasks within the time limit decided by them. Start out by giving them a list of fun to-dos that needs to be accomplished within a set deadline, or an alarm clock that helps them wake up on time every morning. Teaching them the power of punctuality can take them very far when they grow up to be responsible and professional adults.
Collaborating on hobbies
Children are curious creatures that love dabbling in new activities every day. As parents, we can facilitate and show case the importance of having hobbies by taking part in activities that are interesting for both parents and children. Be it art, adventure or sports, children can find different creative spaces that reflect their passion areas. Hobbies also connect children with other peers and help them become a part of a larger community, thus making them more aware of the world. This can initiated through a dialogue wherein instead of leaving children for music or painting classes, parents can collaborate with them and do it together instead. As they slowly find their passion, children then take it up on their own pace and will.
What children model from their surroundings is dependent on the type of reinforcements those behaviours receive. Children (or even adults) are more likely to imitate a behaviour if they get some positive reinforcement for it. For instance, if a child overhears an adult swearing, then she/he, although learns new words but is less likely to use them if they’re not encouraged to do so. However, if people around him/her encourage/laugh/reward such behaviour, they will pick up on swearing as a new form of communication and eliciting a response from adults and peers.
Also, there are times when a negative situation cannot be avoided. In such cases, feel free to talk about the scenario and explain to them that this is not the desired behaviour. Children not only learn from watching but can take lessons from you explaining a scenario too. The first six years of their lives are when they’re most sponge-like – absorbing everything they see or listen, so it is our duty to ensure we provide the most conducive environment for growth in them. Parenting is a life-long process and it is these teachable moments that bring parents and children closer.
This article was published in June 2019 issue of ParentEdge Magazine.