There is no way that anyone can be the perfect role model at all times. Every once in a while you are going to blow a fuse and say something out of line, make mistakes, and obviously teach the exact opposite lesson to your children with your actions. The truth is that as much as a child might idealize you, he or she does not expect you to be perfect all the times. It is how you deal with those moments in your life in which the true lesson resides. So in essence, even though I could go on and on writing about all of the things that are bad examples and you should not do in front of your children, this post is really more about the things you do right than it is about the ones you screw up.
My children are not strangers in my lives. Even though I might tend to make my first impression with respect to the people I randomly meet in life the most impacting towards my opinion and assessment of their persona, this is not the case with my kids. With them I have the opportunity to allow them to really get to know me and learn from me ALL of the time. The key is to understand that the younger they are, the more impacting my behaviour is to their overall evaluation of what is wrong and what is right. I might think that a sarcastic comment might go totally unnoticed, but the reality is that they are watching me all the time and not once while they are at any of their sensory ranges will it be missed. If I am constantly making sarcastic remarks, there is a really good chance that they will learn this behaviour and incorporate it into their personality too.
When I was a young boy one of the things that is most prevalent in my mind today as an adult is the memory of my father joking around and being light hearted about many things. I rarely have any recollection of him talking about people, neither good or badly. He was an incredibly social person, yet I have no memories of him criticizing anyone in particular. That was such a wonderful lesson for me as a child, the fact that I could have great social interaction with others without having to turn any conversation into gossip. I am sure that in the privacy of his relationship with my mother, they probably exchanged opinions of friends and family members, but in public this behaviour was completely absent.
I will not advocate or critique anyone for smoking or drinking. In fact, my father was a heavy smoker and a social drinker. However, I rarely saw him intoxicated. During family gatherings he would drink and have a wonderful time with everyone around him, which taught me that moderation was the key to being in control of your actions. From his heavy smoking I learned that addictions are tough to beat and can make your life and that of those around you very frustrating. Again, it is not about what you do right or wrong, it is how you do it and deal with any fallout or consequence. Be aware that even though we teach our children by example, the example is not just a single act or behaviour, it is our entire demeanor and attitude that gets sucked in by those young sponges called kids.
Because I did not think that I needed help in dealing with my own anger, I went through much of my kid’s childhood teaching them that it was OK to once in a while let it all out. My anger never reached the point of breaking things or much less being physically abusive to anyone, but the simple fact that I was angry and would once in a while go on a rant of raising my voice and saying out loud everything that was frustrating the crap out of me taught my children the wrong lesson. Soon I found my oldest son doing the exact same thing and colliding with me when this happened. When we realized that this was totally unhealthy we both went and got help. Neither one of us is perfect, but going together to find other ways to deal with our anger was a lesson that has paid off handsomely. Interestingly, learning to deal with these issues at a younger age makes my son a much better student than myself. Old dog and new tricks are much less effective. All and all the lesson did not end by learning other ways to deal with our anger, it also went a long way in learning that sometimes we need help in order to find the right answers to our questions.
Set a good example on the little things too. Don’t allow their mother’s birthday, Mother’s Day, and other special holidays to go by without taking them with you to learn to get mom something nice. Nice does not mean expensive, it means thoughtful and expressive in your gratitude towards her. If you don’t teach them, who will? Also, the way you behave towards your own parents and elders will definitely make an impression on their eventual attitude towards their parents and elders. Hugs and kisses are free and rarely rejected by anyone. If they see you hugging your mom, they too will be much more inclined to love their grandma, and hug their mom too. Eye contact during greetings, pats on the back, and good wishes during farewells are just simple gestures that go a long way when they are learned at an early age.
I learned from my parents that it is not only right to be compassionate towards those that have less than you, it is also good for the soul. Allow your children to see you not just give money to a homeless person, but also talk to them, interact with them. It is not about how much you give, it is about how you give. Children have very little concept of the difference between one dollar and twenty dollars, yet if you go into your closet and pull out a blanket and bring it to someone that is cold, trust me when I tell you that this image will be recorded in their minds and hearts for all of their life. My father did it, and I am still to this moment proud of him for doing so. The positive lessons that I teach my children will definitely stay with them and contribute to their ability to be good parents too.
Finally, something that you might not think is that important yet I am of the school of thought that it truly is, be kind to animals in their presence. You do not have to like cats to say something nice about them planting the seed that as contentious as they may seem, they are cute and after all a deserving part of kindness in this world. The kindness that you show towards any animal, especially a home pet, will go miles deep into your children’s emotional attitude towards living things in general. It is interesting to know that studies have shown that many socially maladjusted individuals were cruel to animals. The degree of your human compassion is an amazingly important lesson that is typically considered a learned behaviour.
Tell them, show them, and make sure that they know that you love them. Our lives are fueled by the knowledge that good things surround us. Emotional gifts are significantly more important than any toy or gadget that you buy for your kids. On the outside they may be begging for you to spend money on some new game, but in the inside they are also begging for you to spend time with them doing anything that brings you closer to each other. Once they are at the age in which they prefer to go to the movies with their friends rather than with you, break the pattern of allowing life to just go by and entice them with their favorite place to eat so that you can still find time to share a moment together. When they start drifting apart because of normal teenage behaviour, dig deep into your own teenage experiences and find some common ground, anything that makes them feel that you understand them. At that age they are totally engrossed with their friends. Instead of finding what is wrong with their friends, search for what might be right and say it out loud so that you can still connect with their hearts even if you are not able to connect with their mind. Trust me when I tell you that love is the key, not money, not reasoning, and especially not judging. From the moment they were born their eyes fixated on you, and that is no coincidence. What that means is that they are watching you to learn.