Thursday, April 26, 2012

Do As I Do Not Just As I Say

     Children learn by observing those adults in their lives who are important to them.  A baby watches its mother’s face intently for cues.  A toddler will reprimand a little friend with, “No.  No.  Don’t do that,” something the toddler hears often as he or she explores the world.  
     Back in 1954, Dorothy Law Nolte was onto something when she wrote the classic poem, “Children Learn What They Live.”  A book by the same name later appeared (1998) with the subtitle: “Parenting to Inspire Values”).
     Research tells us how important modeling is to children, yet many parents think that they can tell their children to do one thing while they, themselves, do the opposite.  Even the best parents have inadvertently said or done something that models negative behavior.  After all, parents are only human.  
     The difference between a positive and a negative role model, however, is using adult negative behavior as a positive reinforcer for your child.  It is okay to say to your child, “Mommy just lost her temper and said a bad word.  That was wrong.  Sometimes Mommies do wrong things.  But I know it was wrong and I am sorry.  I will try not to do that again.  I tell you what: if you hear Mommy say that word again, it is okay for you to give me a time out, okay?”  By so doing, what could have been negative modeling becomes an opportunity for positive modeling.
     You’re probably saying, “Oh, sure.  Every time I slip up and say something I shouldn’t I’m supposed to turn around and apologize to my child?  Are you crazy?”  No, I’m not.  You would be surprised how easy it is to do.  As someone cuts you off in traffic and you get angry and curse at the driver with little Tommy in the backseat, it’s pretty easy a few minutes later when you calm down to look in your rearview mirror and simply say, “Oops.  Mommy should have had more patience with that driver, huh?”  By so doing, you are not sending mixed messages.  You’re not telling Tommy to have patience with his little sister, while you don’t have to have patience with another driver.
     As Kirstie Spiers Neumeister said in Perfectionism in Gifted Children, “Children need to observe their parents and teachers taking on challenges, making mistakes, and experiencing failures once in awhile. This is how they will learn to appreciate mistakes and failures in a constructive fashion, rather than feeling crippled by anxiety and self-blame.”
     So the next time you mess up in front of your child, try acknowledging it.  You might be surprised by your child’s reaction.

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