It’s amazing to me how naturally and easily my children mimic me! If you’ve ever watched a child attempt to blow bubbles for the first time, you know exactly what I mean. Babies love bubbles, and they love popping them, but what they seem to love the most is blowing the bubbles themselves. They don’t care how slippery their little hands get, or even that they got a little bit of soap in their mouth, they just want to try. As a teacher, parent and grandparent, I love to let the little ones watch me blow bubbles, modeling how it’s done. Next, I let them try to blow a bubble while I hold the wand. Last, of course, I give in. Here we go: tiny fingers grabbing the top of the wand; arms, clothing and faces dripping with the bubble liquid. After a while they learn critical-bubble-blowing-skills like… you can’t touch the top of the wand, and… you have to blow softly to get a bubble.
Children, beginning at the very earliest of ages and continuing throughout life learn by watching us and recreating what they’ve seen.
As scary as it may be, this principle transcends bubble-blowing 101. What we pay attention to and demonstrate as important becomes what our children pay attention to and see as important. Now don’t get me wrong. They wouldn’t dare let you see that they agree, if they do later on in teenage years, but it still matters. How we respond and react to what life throws at us teaches our kids to do the same.
What values and morals are important to you? Some of the values that we hope to model in our home are:
- Loving others – So much can be taught under loving others, forgiveness, patience, kindness, and more. Choosing to demonstrate love for others doesn’t require that we know ‘em, like ‘em, agree with ‘em, look like ‘em, talk like ‘em or want to hang out with ‘em—we can always choose to demonstrate love for ‘em. We can even demonstrate love towards those who have hurt us. When my grandchildren see me responding in gentleness (read love) to the cashier at the store who is rude, it impacts their lives. When someone cuts me off in traffic and I remain calm (read act in love) it impacts their lives.
- Honesty – Honesty is so important, yet as role models we can teach dishonesty and not even realize it. When someone calls on the phone and wants to make plans and we make up a ‘little white lie’ to get out of it, the lesson our children get isn’t missed. Children are listening. You’re touching their lives.
- Humility – Yes, we make mistakes sometimes. It’s so important to apologize to our children when we make a mistake, or maybe even lose our temper. My husband asked my adult kids to make a list of the top 10 things they would want him to know. One of the ones that showed up consistently on their lists was that, throughout their time living at home, he apologized to them when he was wrong. Just like IBM in its early days, apologizing and fixing mistakes can earn an incredible reputation.
- Gratitude – You’ll find the ideas of thankfulness and gratitude as running themes throughout the Bible. The Apostle Paul teaches in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” Did you catch that? Give thanks in all. When thankfulness becomes a way of life, naturally and regularly flowing from our hearts through our mouths and our deeds, real peace is possible.
Each family establishes it’s own set of values, modeling intentionally and unintentionally what is important. Children will develop values founded on what their parents believe and on their behavior and values1. There are many suggestions online on where to start and ideas of what values are important to teach our children. Some of these are consideration, determination, justice (not only saying you’re sorry, but making amends; helping rebuild a tower of blocks, knocked down in anger)2.
Sounds like a lot of work, doesn’t it? It is.
Even so, it’s important! Teaching values can be done in games and playing, such little things can teach big things. A board game teaches taking turns, and playing with your child’s favorite toy teaches sharing. Here are some other fun ways that we can demonstrate and model positive values for children around us3.
- Plant a Garden – Whether it is vegetables or flowers, planting a garden can teach patience and perseverance. A child may be more likely to try to some vegetables they have grown themselves, or even take a bouquet of flowers that they grew to someone who needs a smile.
- Reach out to an older person – Visiting a widow or an elderly person who cannot get out much teaches our children to respect their elders. They can help make baked goodies, take a flower, or a handmade picture. I took my children and their cousins to visit a Veteran who was 97 years old and in a wheel chair. The gentleman was very excited to see the children, show them pictures, and tell his story. One of the children responded with “Wow, you are really old”, although I may have blushed, the gentleman was hard of hearing and didn’t hear him, but it did give me a chance to teach about what is okay to say and what is not okay to say.
- Have a toy wash – Using either the bathtub, or some plastic bins outside, give your child some toys they can wash up. They see it more as water play than work, and they are learning about taking care of what they have.
- Clean up for good – This will give parents an opportunity to be generous and model generosity. It doesn’t hurt that it also helps with de-cluttering the house, either! Get together clothes that have been outgrown, things around the house that you’re ready to say good bye to and put together a yard sale. The children can help make signs and sell lemonade, and then help deliver the money they made to a charity.
In modeling values we can help mold our children and prepare them for school and life as they begin to interact with others. They will be able to get along with their peers, respect their teachers, and have fun with life. We always want the best for our children, wanting them not to make the same mistakes we did growing up. Teaching through modeling is one of the biggest tools we have as parents.
Don’t just tell ‘em… show ‘em!
- Whitbeck, L.B. & Gecas, V. (August 1998). Value attributions and Value Transmission between Parents and Children. Journal of Marriage and Family, 829.
- Five Values You Should Teach Your Child by Age Five. (November 2014). Retrieved from http://www.parents.com/parenting/better-parenting/advice/5-values-you-should-teach-your-child-by-age-five/
- Mohler, M. (May 2005).Fun Ways to Teach Values. Retrieved from http://www.parents.com/parenting/better-parenting/teaching-tolerance/ways-to-teach-children-values/