By Karen Whiting, Crosswalk.com
Little eyes watch everything you do, so be sure to model great behavior. That means being intentional about attitudes and conduct you most desire to develop in your youngsters. Be purposeful in your actions and words because your children want to be like you. A study of Australian children and Bushman children found that imitating parental behavior is universal. Another study showed a correlation of developing healthy relationships with families where the father maintains a quality relationship with the mother.
Choose what outcomes you desire most in your child’s behavior. Then consider how to intentionally model the conduct and do it with enthusiasm. Focus on the ones most important and then add others gradually.
1. Show Kindness
My father did more than state, “There is never too much kindness in the world.” He showed kindness to everyone he encountered. He greeted them, asked how they were doing, listened, and offered to help when he saw a need. At home, he treated all of us with consideration.
You can model kindness by speaking softly, opening doors for others, letting someone go ahead in line, and performing acts of kindness for neighbors such as sharing produce from your garden or making them a special treat.
Kindness includes good manners and being polite to one another. Provide opportunities to practice good behavior. Eating together affords great moments to say please, thank you, and compliment the chef and helpers. It’s also a time to share about the day and speak kindly to one another as well as to serve favorites to celebrate an accomplishment or uplift a family member’s spirits. Doing something thoughtful shows consideration and fosters acts of kindness.
2. Respect Others
At the start of my marriage, I chose to be respectful of my husband and family. When a family member spoke an unkind word about another member, I reminded them that I love that person and mentioned one of his or her positive actions or attributes. Appreciating others and their efforts as well as showing approval of their good points cultivates respect.
Valuing a person includes respect for their belongings. Be sure to ask to use a family member’s possessions, such as asking to read your spouse’s book when they finish it or when playing with your child ask to hold or use one of their toys. Even folding laundry carefully shows respect and concern for how he or she looks.
Respect extends to caring for God’s creation. Pick up litter, plant flowers, and enjoy nature walks. Recycle and reuse items when possible. That demonstrates a concern for the earth and life.
3. Model Emotional Responsibility
If we want our children to be calm and self-controlled, we need to control anger without outbursts or negative behavior. This includes on the road when cut off by a disrespectful driver. Be sure to pause before speaking or reacting. When parents are emotionally responsible, they create a safe zone at home where children learn to resolve problems and feel free to speak up and share their feelings.
Be real. Express that you feel frustrated or angry and then show how you calm yourself. You might pause and take a few deep breathes, count to ten aloud, or find something positive about the cause of the negative emotions. In reacting to your children’s misbehavior, remain calm. Quietly point out items left out that need to be put away. State the consequence of the negative actions and rewards for positive ones. Then follow through.
Remember the power of being authentic and apologizing, too. Use words to express that you are sorry when you said something hurtful or ignored your child. Words have the power to bring pain or joy. Express your positive emotions with cheerful words about the day and praise for loved ones.
4. Use Wholesome Language
Civility seems rare in society at times, but it can be the norm in your home if you watch your own language. Ephesians 4:32 that reminds us to only let wholesome words come out of our mouths. I grew up in the restaurant business and I remember that my grandfather did not let people swear in the bar area. That stayed with me and I never added any swear words or unwholesome ones to my vocabulary.
I try to balance any constructive criticism with praise to model balance in speech. Complimenting family members is great as long as it is honest and not false flattery. Be real in sharing that you love someone’s smile or enjoyed something they said. Praise loved ones for effort and not only accomplishments.
Fiction author Patrick Rothfuss stated in Name the Wind, “Words can light fires in the minds of men. Words can wring tears from the hardest hearts.” Choose your words with love for the listener and speak to bring out the best in one another.
5. Model Social Interaction
We need to model how to interact and communicate in social settings. My cousin’s daughter at age four amazed me when she opened the door with a smile and welcoming greeting. She showed me to a place to sit and asked if she could get me something to drink. Her hospitality started with her parents who always act with grace and a welcoming spirit.
Show through action how to answer the phone or door, how to greet people when out, and how to speak to workers and people who serve you. Show how you choose what to wear before leaving the house. Let your children notice how you listen and respond to others when in social settings. Children are more at ease when they are prepared and understand how to behave around other people. Invite people into your home and enlist your children to welcome the visitors once they have seen you greeting guests.
Schedule play dates and plan some activities your children enjoy, to make the social interaction go smoothly. Let them see you greet their friends and engage them in conversation. Encourage them to follow your example by chatting about the friend’s talents and admirable attributes before the arrival.
6. Care for Your Home
Show that you care about your home. Keep it organized. Clean up after yourself when you grab a snack. Take time as you arrive home to put away your things. Come alongside your children to help them learn to clean up after they play or eat a snack. Make room for toys and clothes so everything has a place where it belongs.
During our children’s early years, we set aside Saturday mornings as time to clean and care for our home. The same afternoons we spent having fun together. It showed we cared about the home but also cared about being together in both work and play. We divided chores and repairs. Everyone joined in. It nurtured a sense of team spirit and cooperation. That also gives children a sense of belonging and pride in caring for the home.
Together your family makes your home a haven, a place to relax, entertain, and feel accepted.
7. Value Education
Be a lifelong learner so your children with value education. Take them to museums and performances. Read at home and have bookcases to add their books. Read the manuals to new appliances and gadgets to show that’s how to understand and best make use of the items. Any intellectual pursuit reflects lifelong learning from solving puzzles to developing a new skill. It encourages curiosity, enriches our lives, improves our memories, and helps us adapt to changes. Education becomes a core value for your children as they follow your example.
Engage in conversation around books family members read, and subjects family members are study. Share something new learned at work or volunteering to show that any place offers opportunities to learn.
Lifelong learning also extends to growing in faith. Family devotions combined with children seeing parents reading the Bible and attending group studies inspires children to follow that example and pursue developing their faith throughout their lives.
8. Have an Adventurous Spirit
Many parents complain their children won’t try new foods or hesitate to join activities. Step back and consider how you model an adventurous spirit. At a restaurant mention that you plan to try something new and make a show of enjoying it. Try new activities or learn a new hobby and share it with your children.
My youngest son balked at speaking in front of his class. I mentioned that speaking is one of the most courageous actions a person can do and that holding a prop might help him feel more confident. He took the challenge and conquered his fears. That’s what we want for our children.
Spark a sense of courage with venturing into the great outdoors. Investigate bugs, plants, trees, and rocks or other aspects of nature. Have fun with puddles after the rain, look at the night sky and imagine the vastness of the universe.
9. Share Talents through Volunteering
We all have talents and abilities. Model the joy of sharing talents by volunteering and helping others. I learned so much from a neighbor who had a degree in horticulture who shared her talent with me and helped me with my yard. In turn I baked goodies from produce grown since I love to cook and bake. We both learned from one another.
I always joined in to help somewhere at church and my children’s activities. Now I see my grown children helping out in their communities and churches. They are also great at helping me when I need an extra hand. They learned, as we helped one another, that family is all about giving of our time and talent and reaching out to help others.
Recently my youngest grandchild followed me around and wanted to help with everything I did. He cooked and cleaned up with me. I had done the same with my grandmas. We model traditions and skills through working side by side.
10. Make Healthy Lifestyle Choices
A study conducted by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute concluded that there’s a direct correlation between parent’s level of physical activity and the activity level of their preschool children. We need to model physical wellness and a healthy lifestyle.
Eating well, exercising, and other habits that improve our bodies models encourages a healthy lifestyle for our children. Preschool children should meet at least the minimum of sixty minutes of moderate to vigorous activity daily. Alas, when parents live a sedentary life with high sweets and fatty foods that’s what their children choose. When parents choose a balanced diet and include daily exercise in their routine, then so do their children.
Children notice what’s in the pantry, how you groom yourself, spend your time, and even when you see a doctor. Your healthy habits will motivate them to live well and develop healthful behaviors.
Observational Learning is a natural part of a child’s day. They notice what adults do and make similar choices. Make sure you model the best behaviors for your family. You’ll improve your own behaviors while fostering good habits in your children and you’ll strengthen family bonds. It’s a win-win choice.
Karen Whiting is an author of 25 books and an international speaker. She’s a mother of five and a grandmother. Her book 52 Devotions for Busy Families makes it easy to develop faith in the home. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/shironosov