When kids are little, one of the first rules many parents teach them is to play nicely. Unfortunately, somewhere along the line as we start to grow up, we tend to forget that lesson ourselves.
Don’t believe me? Hop on the Internet and read the comments section for articles. It doesn’t matter what the subject—sports, entertainment, news, etc. Or turn on any number of news programs. Read letters in newspapers and magazines.
For that matter, stand on the sidelines of your kids’ or grandkids’ sporting or school events. Even our own Church isn’t immune to the backbiting and name-calling that seem to have invaded society.
No, adults don’t always do such a good job of practicing what they preach. We gossip, laugh at jokes we know are inappropriate and qualify hurtful statements with words like “I’m not a…but…,” “Not that I care, but…” or “It’s none of my business, but….” When it’s called to our attention, we try to cushion our words with disclaimers, such as, “I was only teasing/joking” or “I didn’t really mean it.”
Setting an Example
The problem is, no matter how we qualify our statements or actions, we are setting an example for our children to follow. Think they’re not soaking up your every word and action? Think again. Any parent who has ever uttered a curse word and then had his or her child repeat it back time and again can attest to that.
A good example is to think about when you drop a rock into water. When the rock hits the water, it initially makes a big splash and then disappears beneath the surface. But it also sends out ripples which spread farther and farther. If you think about your words and actions like that rock, it’s a good reminder that what you say and do can cause quite a widespread reaction. Here are some ways to try to steer clear of starting that reaction:
■ Stop, look and listen. The other day I heard my oldest daughter snap at her brother when he asked her a question. I corrected her, but not much later caught myself doing the same thing and snapping back at my husband when he asked me a question. Kids mimic what they see and hear. So many times parents will tell their kids one thing and then turn around and do the opposite. You know, it’s the old “Do as I say, not as I do” phenomenon. But if we really want to instill in our kids that this type of behavior is unacceptable, we must show them by our actions. Stop and think about what messages you’re sending your children or what example you’re setting with your actions.
■ Speak up. Make it extremely clear that behavior like gossiping, making fun of people, excluding others or bullying will not be tolerated.
■ Ask your kids. Adults do quite a good job of telling children what they should or should not be doing, but what about ourselves? Ask your kids for feedback on areas they think you need to work on, such as gossiping, using foul language or lying. It may be disheartening to hear your kids call you out on certain bad habits, but it’s a good reality check, and you will become aware of areas you need to work on.
■ Be accountable. Make sure your kids know it’s O.K. to talk about instances when you have not lived up to the standards you expect from them.