It’s easy to forget sometimes that our kids see and hear everything we do and say as parents.
While their faces might be glued to their iPads, it doesn’t mean they don’t notice everything.
One of the most important things we can do as parents is to model for them positive behaviors.
They are watching, and they will imitate.
My kids see me lifting weights daily, they see me reading and writing, they see me working from home, and they know where my meditation cushion is.
Just the other day, my five-year-old ran over to me to tell me that he wants to have muscles like me and wants to start working out with me.
He sees me every day toiling in the basement with weights and knows that’s a positive thing he wants to imitate. That made me happy when he said it.
He also often asks me to read to him, usually when he sees me reading. I’m happy to oblige him and we’ve been reading Jocko Willink’s Way of the Warrior Kid. The book is too advanced for him to read on his own, but I make him point out his sight words on every page to reinforce what he is learning in school.
I want my kids to value physical fitness and discover the joy of learning and questioning, so I make it a point to ensure they see me when I do those things.
I encourage them to not accept everything at face value and to not be afraid to question me or authority figures. If they disagree with something I’ve asked them to do, I give them the opportunity to make a logical argument to me. This is to ensure they don’t grow up to be automatons who are afraid to question future teachers, professors, bosses, or perceived elders. As Socrates said, “To find yourself, think for yourself.” They are still finding themselves and must be allowed to think for themselves.
Zac Small, in his instructive book, Fatherhood for Modern Times, wrote: “Your children are going to follow your example, not your advice.” This book was helpful for me in internalizing the fact that our kids are always watching and imitating, and I’ve been consciously trying to parent with this constantly in mind. This extremely valuable book is currently on sale for only $9.25 using the code 4THEDADS. I encourage all fathers to read and apply it.
Be that example by showing them and modeling behavior for them. Don’t just lecture them and expect it to get through.
Just as our kids see and imitate the positives we do, they also see clearly the negatives.
Imagine my surprise when my son called his sister an “asshole.” When I asked him what he said he repeated the word (I’m kind of proud he stood his ground). He said he heard me saying it about someone.
Though he doesn’t always appear to be listening, the fact is he does listen.
It made my wife and me more careful with our language around the kids.
Likewise, if your kids feel constant tension between Mom and Dad at home, they will internalize that this is what a marriage is like.
If your kids see you come home from work and immediately retreat into your “Man Cave” to drink beer all night alone, they will think this is what fathers do.
If your kids see you let the negative news on TV affect your behavior, they will more likely let external events they have no control over affect their emotions and actions.
They see our positive and negative behaviors and they strive to emulate us. This is a remarkable gift since we as parents have the power to model the types of behaviors that will make our kids more successful, happy, healthy, and well-adjusted as adults, and they are a captive audience.
We must all take this responsibility seriously. It’s easy to see their heads buried in their electronic devices or in schoolwork and assume they aren’t paying attention or listening.
This is false.
I’ve also begun self-censoring what I listen to in the car when they are in the back seat. When my daughter pointed out a “Fuck” in a song I was listening to, I knew I couldn’t continue to listen to everything I might want to.
The behaviors we model will be different for each parent depending on your own values and interests.
That’s perfectly ok. What works for me and my family doesn’t work for everyone.
But, understand that they are watching, and we have the opportunity to help them every day as they grow into adulthood. A famous quote attributed to St. Francis of Assisi says, “Preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.”
This is how I view parenting. To change it slightly into a parenting and non-religious context: “Teach your kids at all times. When necessary, use words.”
Our daily actions repeated and visible to them count more than our words. Let’s make those actions positive and helpful to them as they develop into adults and future leaders of families and communities.