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(4) Parents & Kids

Children Learn From Parents


What You Live Is What They Learn

Texts offer a refreshing alternative to managerial parenting. The good news is: you don’t have to figure out how to change your kids’ behavior, and you don’t have to manage anything, in order to end conflicts.

The parenting we advocate is in many ways much simpler and more instinctive than this. It is also more effective in meeting the needs of kids and parents, in the short term and, especially, in the long term. It builds on the good feelings you and your children experience at your most connected moments, and it addresses the only behavior you can actually change-your own. The beauty of it is, when you change your behavior, your kids’ behavior will change too.

It is commonly believed that a parent’s job is to teach and enforce cultural values. Customary methods for doing this include lecturing, advising, making demands, and correcting behavior. This parent-as teacher orientation is, unfortunately, a set-up that creates frustrated parents, irritated children, and conflict all around. At the same time that you are doing your best to teach your kids cultural values, they are doing their best to develop a sense of self-direction and self-respect. All too often they learn to turn a deaf ear to you and your advice. They avoid saying anything that might result in another lecture, admonishment, or ultimatum that reminds them how they are failing to live up to your expectations.

As a parent, of course you want to have influence with your children; you want to pass on values and guide them in ways that will contribute to their happiness and success in life. The question is: How can you have the most influence with your children-by lecturing and taking them to task or by sharing your values and living those values yourself?

Everyone knows that actions speak louder than words. In fact, studies show that only 5 percent of lifelong learning comes from instruction: 95 percent of what we remember comes from family and social interactions.

At some level you likely know that your children learn more from what you do than from what you say. You may hear your own voice in the way one sibling talks with another. You may hear your children using the same line of reasoning with you that you use with them. Think for a moment about what you learned from your parents. Did you learn the most from, or even listen to half of, what they told you? Or did you learn the most from what you saw them do and how they lived their lives?

Many parents tell us that they learned from painful experiences with their parents what they didn’t want to do with their own kids. Whether their modeling was positive or negative, your parents’ actions are a primary motivating force for the way you are parenting and the life you are living now.

Children need parents who live honestly and with commitment to their values. Parents have a chance to be exemplars and model what they want their children to learn and live. This is an invitation and opportunity, and for many it is a powerful incentive to get clear about what has purpose and meaning for them and to do their best to live in harmony with it.

To live authentically, with clarity about what is important and true for you, is the goal-not perfection. Giving up the ideal of being a perfect parent can be a huge relief. Then, when you blow it and do things that don’t match your values-as you will-you won’t spiral down into self-condemnation but will be able to enjoy the opportunity to be honest with your children and let them learn what honesty looks and sounds like. And because you aren’t expecting perfection from yourself, you will be less likely to expect it from your children.




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