"All the world’s a stage" and you are your child’s main attraction. From their youngest age, your children are constantly watching [and eventually imitating] what you are doing. Like it or not, you are their role model—not only for what a parent should be like, but also for being a partner, a head of family or a member of a community. No doubt, you will face some performance pressure, but it’s just a matter of consciously inculcating good behavioural habits. Here are some ‘to dos’ that can help your kids grow into the adults you want them to be:
Broadcast your emotions
You come home from work, tired and irritable. You snap at your kids demanding that they pick up their toys… now! Rather than being reactive [and explosive], be responsible and be proactive. As soon as you walk in, announce that you are tired and irritable and need a half hour to chill out before dinner. By labelling your emotions you are teaching your children to do the same. When you take responsibility for your feelings, your children don’t have to worry that they are always the cause of your moods or that they need to always walk on eggshells around you.
Apologise and explain
If you did in fact snap at them about the toys or found yourself slipping into a lecture/rant with your teenage daughter rather than listening to what she was saying, mop up. Apologise for the snapping or the ranting, and do it without making excuses. Help them understand you and what makes you tick by saying something like: “I’m sorry I yelled at you about the toys as soon as I got home, but I was tired and cranky and should have taken a mommy/daddy time-out instead.” or “I’m sorry I got so wound up that I didn’t listen, but I guess I started feeling really worried when you described how hard school has been for you today.” In this way, you are showing your children how to take responsibility for your emotions and behaviours, as well as how to be self aware and communicative.
Show your kids how you make up
All couples have arguments from time to time and strong emotions can leave children, especially the younger ones, feeling rattled. If and when this happens, you need to explain and let them know that it is not about them and it’s not their fault.
But it is equally important to let them know that you and your partner will make up. This includes your adult-adult apology, the adult problem-solving conversation [complete with compromises], and the make-up hug. This is how your children will learn that problems are something that disagreeing adults can approach together, that talking and seeking solutions, rather than endlessly fighting about or sweeping problems under the rug are the mature ways of running a relationship… and life.
Create couple time
While they may not like staying with the babysitter, seeing you set aside time to be together as a couple teaches children that relationships are not only about taking care of children, working, or leading parallel lives, but keeping the relationship renewed by making time as a couple.
While sex is behind closed doors, affection shouldn’t be. Even though partners may differ in their comfort around displays of affection in front of their children, the pat on the back, kiss on the cheek, the snuggle on the couch not only help children feel relaxed and safe, but teach them ways in which adults stay connected.
Create traditions and rituals
Children love the predictable. Creating and being excited about family traditions and rituals not only helps bind the family but show your children the ingredients to do exactly that. [Read The Power of Rituals]
Show how you reach out and consider others
Let them know when it’s time to make a birthday card for your sister. Have them help make and bring brownies to the new neighbours. Remind them that it is Sunday night and time to call up grandma. Help your children see how you keep ties with those you know and reach out to those you don’t.
Welcome different people into your home
There is an idea that if you want to teach children about peace, let them meet a diversity of people in your home. By doing this they not only learn to become more comfortable around people who are different than themselves, but they instinctively take in the values of openness, generosity, tolerance and trust.
Put your values into action
If you believe in political action, take your kids with you when you go to vote or help campaign for candidates. If you have strong religious beliefs, share not only what you believe but make sure your children participate with you. Again, it is not what you say that children remember, but what you do. Let them see how your values and priorities shape your life.
There you have it, some ideas to get you started—feel free to add your own. Becoming the role model you want to be is not about perfection but about having clear intentions. It is about committing yourself to emotional responsibility and sensitivity, and being willing to actively solve relationship problems. It’s also about taking a proactive, rather than reactive or passive stance towards creating a family life and personal life that represents who you are, and one that leaves room for change and growth—and even mistakes. Don’t pressure yourself to do an all-at-once-makeover; instead decide on changes and habits you want to incorporate into your everyday life, and take them one step at a time.
When your kids eventually become parents, they’ll be thanking you.
This was first published in the June 2014 issue of Complete Wellbeing.
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