Remember in kindergarten when we learned the golden rule? Treat others as you would want them to treat you. Remember last week when you heard that parent say to their child, “If you want them to share with you, you might try sharing with them”?
Now, remember that old, wishful parenting saying, “Do as I say, not as I do”? And, remember how that doesn’t work at all? Remember how the research keeps telling us that kids who grow up in houses that utilize spanking generally exhibit more aggression with peers? There seems to be a pattern here.
Mahatma Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Maybe he was on to something.
I recently wrote a post called Sit Down and Breathe advocating that calming a storm within a child or house may actually start with us literally sitting down and breathing. This works because the child sees us and feels us do something different. The behavior is contagious. The child learns a new skill because we are modeling it, not because we are trying to force them to do it, too. They step into the new moment with us because it feels better. We have become the change we wanted to see.
It is no secret that if we treat people with respect, we are likely to get respect back. Gandhi knew it. Our kindergarten teacher knew it. Heck even most preschoolers know it. How many of us have asked our child why they hit someone only to have them say, “Well, he hit me first.” We recognize things like this all the time. But, for some reason, when it comes to our own parenting, we don’t get it.
We think we can tell, lecture, bribe, coerce, force, trick or teach our children into being the people we want them to be. Or better yet, we want them to just naturally be born perfect. But the truth is that no matter how much we tell, lecture, bribe, coerce, force, trick or teach our children, in the end our own behaviors will have much greater influence over the people they become. We have to listen to Ganhdi. We have to be the change we want to see.
We have to be the person we want our children to become.
The other day I told my child that it was time to clean up. He continued to work on the puzzles he had spread all over the floor. I asked him again, my voice raising a little louder, my intention stronger. He continued to work and then finally he said, “I’m in the middle of this right now, I will talk to you in a minute.” In that moment, I saw myself. Cooking, cleaning, whatever. Brushing off his questions to me, focused on my task and saying…well…those exact words. And then I remembered him trying to get my attention, getting louder, his intention getting stronger. Our roles reversed.
If I want him to interact differently with me, I need to be the change I want to see. I need to show him some other options: “I’m really focused right now, can you give me five minutes?” or “I can tell you really need me, let me get to a stopping point and I will give you my full attention” or “Yep, you’re right, we are supposed to be going to the park and I’m not ready yet. Can you help me finish this so I can get through it quicker?”
Be the person you want your child to become.
Ever found yourself yelling, “STOP YELLING!” only to have the child or other person yell back, “I’M NOT YELLING!”? Crazy, but it happens. Be the change. Get close to a loud child and speak very, very quietly. Chances are they will lower their voice to match yours. Magic? Nope. Be the change.
Two Degrees of Suburbia recently wrote, in my opinion, one of the most poignant posts ever. She wrote, “If you want your kid to say please and thank you….just say please and thank you.” Hallelujah. No more, no less.
Be the person you want your child to become.
If you want your child to trust, then you must trust them. Give them opportunities to lead as often as you expect them to follow. Value their opinions and efforts.
If you want your child to be respectful, then you must respect them and others. Speak thoughtfully and graciously. Understand that their bodies and minds are theirs, and behave in a way that shows you understand and value all the other bodies and minds that share this world of ours.
If you want your child to move through life with integrity, then you must show them the value of standing up for what we know is right and challenging what is wrong, even when that wrong came from our own selves. Admitting mistakes and making amends when we break the trust of others, including our children is vital. You can tell a child to say, “I’m sorry,” but if they see you saying you’re sorry in moments when you have let someone down, they may actually see the beauty in it.
If you want your child to be kind, you must be kind.
You get the picture.
If you want your child to be X, then you must be X.
If you want your child to be Y, then you must be Y.
What if it really is just as simple as that? Gandhi was a pretty smart guy. The next time you find yourself feeling frustrated with something your child is doing, or not doing, do a little soul searching yourself. Is there any way you may be modeling this? Is there anything you can do to be the change you want to see? What are you seeing in your child that is truly just a reflection of yourself? And then, be the change. Think of it this way, even if it doesn’t have an immediate impact on your child, it will have a pretty immediate impact on you. We don’t want our children to be kind, patient, trusting, thoughtful, gracious, respectful, etc just for the heck of it. Nope, we want to help them embody these attributes because we know it will make their lives better. Maybe it will work for us, too.