Ever watch a little boy pull up a chair next to his dad at the bathroom sink and “shave” with the back of a comb? How about a little girl stumbling out of her mom’s closet with high-heels and dress that could hold two of her? What are they doing?
How about the pre-teen boy that disengages emotionally when things get tough or the girl yelling defiantly back at her mother about her choice of clothes? Not nearly as cute of a picture is it? The harsh reality though is that all of these images are the result of the same thing. Modeling behavior.
Kids don’t make this stuff up…they see it in the most influential sources of their lives. Parents are supposed to be on the front line, for good or bad, and it is the behaviors we model that have everything to do with what we see in our own children. Sobering, I know…but if we see behavior in our kids that drives us nuts, the first place we have to look is at ourselves.
It isn’t the easiest thing to do, but humbly looking at the habits and personalities of our children and recognizing ourselves is an amazing exercise. I remember when I reached my limit with how quickly our son used to “fly off the handle” and yell at his sister for the littlest thing. “Why is he so short tempered,” I asked myself. Later that night, guess what I saw in myself.
Whether they are modeling your behavior or that of someone else (TV characters, baby sitters, social icons), the next step is effecting the change in behavior you seek. Guess what? That means the work is on us again! Unless of course you would like to defer the raising of your children to the media, sitcoms, or their friends at school?
We’ll go through a few tools to help us identify the behavior we want to change in our kids, see if it is in us, visualize the behavior we want, and how to make ourselves the model for that change. Please remember, these are tools not tactics and is not the end-all-be-all of parenting. None of these are an easy way to get your kids to behave perfectly in an instant. There is still work involved, but the result is lasting.
#1 – Get a journal and use it. Using a journal, as opposed to just thinking things through, creates a whole new level of awareness. By writing things and thoughts down, we activate places in our brain that talking and contemplating don’t. We also control time…
If there is a situation or particular behavior that sends me through the roof when it happens, I can recreate that event in my journal. The difference is that I can stop midway through the blow up, regroup, and totally change how everything plays out. I can even sit it down and come back to it later when I’ve thought through the perfect response. The one that models the behavior I’m encouraging. (If journaling is a mystery or struggle for you, this resource can help.)
#2 – What behavior do you want gone? This is the easiest place to start because it is the thing in your face. Be very specific and don’t allow generalities to rule. Instead of, “I want her to be more respectful,” identify exactly what it is that she does to make you feel disrespected. Her tone of voice, facial expressions, words, timing… what exactly is the problem?
#3 – Is that behavior yours? Gut check time! Once we’ve narrowed it down to specifics, the job of seeing where the behavior comes from is much easier. Do you monitor your tone of voice? Do your facial expressions speak louder than your words? Do you have a tendency to say things at the wrong time?
#4 – What is the behavior you seek? Now that we know the behavior we want to get rid of, we have to be just as specific with the behavior we want. We can’t expect a bad behavior to disappear without placing something else in its place. Nature will not tolerate a vacuum, so something will replace the bad behavior. If we aren’t intentional, a worse behavior could take its place.
#5 – How can you model the right behavior? Regardless of if the behavior is yours or not, it is up to the parents to model the proper behavior. So how does it look? Where can you exemplify this change so your kids can see you as the model? Remember, this is long-term. Don’t expect to do this for a week and have everything fixed.
#6 – Have the talk. I’ll qualify this with; have the age-appropriate talk. Tell your kids what is going on. Specifically identify the behavior that isn’t acceptable, help them come up with the behavior that would be better, and eat some humble pie if needed. If you know you’ve modeled the wrong behavior so far, tell them. Apologize and ask for their forgiveness. Then let them know how things are going to change and that you are the one leading the change.
#7 – Keep priorities straight. Changing and nurturing behavior in our kids is about growing them into people of substance and worth. It is not about making sure they don’t embarrass us in the grocery store. We have to be mindful of our motives and make sure their long-term well-being is the primary driver, not our convenience. Our biggest concern is the heart of our child. Seek their heart and the rest is much easier. Plow forward without their heart, and nothing you do will work.
There is no doubt; our kids are worth the effort. Jesus challenged us to work on ourselves before seeking to change others. I want to bring it home and encourage all of us to embrace these tools and become the change we wish to see in our own homes. Starting there is the only way we can ever hope to impact the world.
Be your best,