Raising better behaved parentsBy Harvey Yoder
When our children behave badly, we assume they are going against everything we’ve ever taught them.
Not always. They may actually be imitating some of our own misbehaviors.
Take “back talk.” Nothing upsets us like children being rude and disrespectful. But they may in fact be using the same kind of discourteous language, copying the same angry tone of voice, they’ve learned all too well from us, their parents.
It’s easy for adults to forget that the Golden Rule, “do to others as you would have them do to you,” applies to people of all ages, including children. Or should we say, especially to children. They have feelings just like us.
This doesn’t mean parents shouldn’t be firm or should tolerate rudeness or other forms of obvious inappropriate behavior. But if in correcting them, we practice the very wrongs we’re trying to correct, how can we expect that to bring about the change we want? Do we really believe we can teach respect, disrespectfully? Or teach patience, impatiently? Or kindness, unkindly?
It doesn’t work. Or it may work too well — in teaching exactly the opposite qualities we think we’re instilling in our children’s lives.
One simple fact to remember is this. Whenever there’s a contradiction between the good traits we’re trying to teach and the bad tone or manners we use in teaching them, it will always be the latter that has the greater impact. The way we say things is more powerful than the words we say.
Chances are, if we have a habit of talking to our children in ways we would not tolerate from them, it’s because we don’t feel as confident and calm as we deserve to as parents. The more emotionally exhausted and powerless we feel, the louder (and ruder) we are likely to become, the more desperately we behave. In other words, we misbehave, a lot like our children do.
Here’s a good word: “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of self control” (1 Tim. 1:7). There are no better qualities than these to pass on to our children: courage, confidence, compassion, self discipline.
And like most other good traits, they are caught as much as taught.
Harvey Yoder is a professional individual and family counselor, an ordained pastor and a member of Family of Hope, a small Virginia Mennonite Conference house church congregation.
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