Have you ever heard “Do as I say, not as I do.”
Well, as a parent and as a professional I’m here to tell you, it doesn’t work! And, it is important.
“Son, for the thousandth time, please put your dishes in the dishwasher and NOT on the counter! Did you even look to see if the dishwasher was full or not??”
“Sorry, Dad,” my son said rather furtively, and he quickly got up and dealt with the offending cutlery, cup, and dishes.
Does this situation sound remotely familiar to anyone out there? Is it as maddening for you as it is for me? My mental health background and understanding of the developing brain says I shouldn’t stress about it. On the other hand, he has no problem remembering to do a whole ton of other things without my constant cajoling. He showers daily (a blessing at his age), brushes his teeth, makes his bed, attends to his homework, goes to bed at the right time, the list goes on. All without being told.
So what’s the deal? Not too long ago, I figured it out, albeit with some help. Just as I was about to settle in to watch a rugby match, my wife came over. With a gleam in her eye she asked, ever so sweetly, “Babe, are you going to put your dishes in the dishwasher and NOT on the counter?”
“Right,” I said, immediately followed by an “Oh.”
Despite telling my son to do one thing, I was SHOWING him to do something different. I don’t think I can understate the importance of understanding that kids watch what we do; they don’t listen to what we say. The example I gave was, on the grand scale of things, trivial. However, if our kids are only going to follow our example on such minor things as putting away their dishes, why wouldn’t they follow our lead on the important stuff too? We all have these kinds of contradictions, both not so serious (like the example I gave) and incredibly important!
Are you the kind of person who stuffs their emotions and goes about pleasing everyone else at your expense? Well, you can tell your kids to stand up for themselves until you are blue in the face, but what do you think they will do? Stuff their emotions and try to please everyone else, even when it is at their expense. Or maybe, you are an emotional eater? Guess what, there is a good chance they will be too!
There is great news that comes with this knowledge. It means that the best thing you can do for your kids is to start dealing with whatever emotional baggage you are carrying. First things first though. You need to be aware of your contradictions.
So, where are you contradictions? Where are the places where you are telling your children one thing and doing another? What are your blind spots? Is it important to you?
It is all fixable. Take care of yourself, be kind to yourself, let the strong and healthy force inside you be a guiding light. Make sure you are attending to the five things we need to be well. The more you do that, the less you’ll have to say to your kids. Your actions will speak louder than your words ever could.