Children Do What They See Their Parents Do

Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

As a parent nothing is more frustrating than to tell your child over and over again not to do something and then to find that the little rascal has done it again.  You wonder why doesn't he (or she) ever listen.  Well, your child may be more busy in looking at what you do and that does not tally with what you say.  Children do what they see we adults do, not what we say.  Real small children learn by imitation.  It's pretty much "monkey see, monkey do" behavior.  As they grow a little older, they come to identify with their parents and other significant adults.  This process of identification drives them to model themselves upon the parents they love and form attachment with.  After all, the natural instinct of a child is to be like his or her parents.  

One time a man brought his three year old son to me because, according to father, he "doesn't listen."  He said whenever he or his wife try to stop the kid from doing something or make him do something, he would get mad and fire at them the anatomical slur that ends in the word, "hole."  I asked the father what he said to his son whenever he got mad with him.  Without batting an eyelid, the father uttered the same epithet.  What really surprised me was that he still didn't see the connection.  I expected an outburst of insight, "aha! I get it now."   On the contrary, I had to point out that his son does listen to him..  Actually, he was listening very well to what the father said when he was mad.  I advised the father to say the word "butterflies, "whenever the father got mad.  The child once again followed his father's example.  

A lot of times we don't see the connection between our behavior and our child's behavior.  For example, when children are shouting, we shout at them to tell them not to shout.  Also, a lot of times, we are not conscious of our behavior as it may have become automatic or a second part of our nature.  However, we can't help but note that behavior when it's directed at us.  A child does not have the ability to discriminate that the same behavior that is okay for the adult is not okay for him or her.  A child is a mirror, an echo field; it returns whatever is sent in its direction.  If you want a child to lean self-control, show it by your example.  If , on the other hand, in trying to teach self-control to a child, you keep flying off the handle, the child will learn flying off the handle, not the self-control.  

When a child is getting on our nerves and we have had enough, we parents decide it's time to "discipline" the little scoundrel.  For majority of people, discipline means punishment, laying down the law, the playback time.  That's not what discipline was originally supposed to mean.  The word "discipline" is derived from the Latin disciplina which meant giving instruction, knowledge, or training.  A disciple is the one who is learning.  The focus of discipline should be on what do you want a child to learn and then the instruction and the training should center on that learning objective.  Do it in a calm manner rather than in anger, so the child doesn't learn the unintended lessons.  Don't do what you don't want your child to do.  

Parents often ask, "What should I do when I am so angry that all I want to do is hit or scream at my child?"  Here are a few tips.  1.  Tell your child you are angry and you are going to calm down before you can talk to him or her.  2.  Walk away for few minutes.  Go to another room or walk or write down how you feel.  3.  Take a few deep breaths.  4.  Count backwards from 10 to 0 in a soothing tone.  5.  Come back to the child and explain what was making you angry.  6.  Then remind the child of the pre-determined "penalty" that he or she should pay.  Pre-determined penalty may be paying something from the pocket allowance, losing the TV time, grounding, etc. 

When parents go about handling their anger and frustration in the manner as described above, there is a bonus lesson to their children.   They will learn that grown people, instead of shouting and screaming, walk away to calm down.  They will also learn how to calm themselves.  In the event that you lash out before you knew what you were doing, say, "I am sorry" as that just teaches the child to apologize and take responsibility for his or her behavior.

When you set limits, explain one time the reason for those limits.  When you say "No," tell your child your reason for saying no.  Example, "Don't play inside the house because you might break something."  Give choices if you can.  Example, "It's time to stop playing outside, would you like to read a book or help me in the kitchen?"  Giving appropriate choices empowers a child and helps you to direct the child to appropriate behaviors.

Perhaps every parent one time or the other has lost control and that is okay but it is still true that if we want children to control their anger, respect others, and speak decently, then we must live that way too.


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