Leading Your Children by Example
There may be nothing more frustrating on the face of the Earth, than trying to get a child to do what you want it to; unless, of course, it is trying to get a donkey to do what you want. Actually, there seems to be a lot of similarity between the two; similarity we could do much better without.
What is it about children that they want to do their own thing, their own way, even if it is wrong? They clearly have their own ideas about things, showing the need to have strong parents who will teach them the right way. The rebelliousness, independence and disobedience of children needs to be channeled into positive outcomes, as part of the process of helping them to grow out of that disobedient, rebellious part of their lives.
Please note that I am not saying that there is no place for discipline in a child’s life. I definitely believe in discipline. But I also believe in steering them in the right direction. I would much rather help a child do right, than discipline them for doing wrong. Positive reward is generally more effective than negative consequences, when you can make it work.
Evaluate Your Approach to Discipline
So, without excusing the child for their inappropriate actions, I have to ask myself, other than the foolishness that is bound up in the heart of that child, what am I doing, which could have a positive or negative impact upon their actions?
Perhaps I should repeat that question, as it is one you don’t often hear. What I asked myself was, “What am I doing, which could have a positive or negative impact upon their actions?”
This is a question that few dads bother to ask themselves. Yet I believe it is one of the most important questions there is. Ultimately, whatever our children say and do is a reflection on us and what we’ve done with them; what we’ve taught them and what we’ve instilled in them. Yes, there are always parts of the child’s personality and character which are formed by things outside our control; but even in those, we fathers are a major influencing factor.
So many dads try to talk to their children, imparting something into them. Even the wisest father who ever existed, a king by the name of Solomon, tried to do that. In fact, he wrote a whole book, encapsulating his wisdom, leaving it for his sons. We know that book as the book of Proverbs; it’s in the Bible.
How Children Learn From Dad
Yet children don’t seem to hear our words all that often. But do you know what they do hear? Our actions. While our children may not pay much attention to what we say, they always pay attention to what we do.
Do you know how children learn how to walk and talk? They see their parents doing it. They see their parents walking and want to do the same, so they work at it, over and over again, until they can do it. They don’t start out walking; but most babies don’t crawl for long, before they are trying to pull themselves up; and once they’re up, they can’t wait to walk.
They see and hear their parents talking to each other and want to talk with them as well. Somehow, they know there is something important in that ability to talk, so they start babbling, making whatever sounds they can. It doesn’t make much sense at first, but eventually they realize that those sounds are words and those words have a meaning. We help with that, but they pretty much have to figure it out by themselves.
This entire process of seeing and copying is a major part in how children learn. They’re hard-wired for it and it is necessary. We need to understand that and make sure that it ends up used in the right way. That’s our job, copying is their job.
What Lessons are you Teaching?
There was a television commercial a few decades ago, that was part of an anti-smoking campaign. In the commercial, a dad and what looked like his three year old son were in the park, playing. When they stopped to take a break, sitting under a tree, the dad pulled out a pack of smokes and lit up. Setting the pack on the ground beside himself, he looked up in the sky and took a satisfying draw on that cigarette.
His son was sitting beside him and saw this, looking up at his dad, then looking down at the pack of cigarettes that dad had laid on the ground. Wanting to be just like dad, he picked up that pack and dug inside to get his own cigarette… just like dad.
Cut! Wait? What’s this? Dad is teaching his kid how to smoke? A three year old!
Yep, that’s exactly what was happening and the dad didn’t even realize it. He had been teaching his son through play and he ended that by teaching him through smoking a cigarette. The son learned both lessons; the lesson the dad wanted him to learn and the lesson he didn’t want him to.
Actions Speak and Teach – Good or Bad
How many times does that happen in the average day? How many times do we, as men, as dads, do things that teach our children things we don’t want to teach them?
• We yell at our wives and children and then wonder why they grow up to do the same.
• We complain about the authorities in our lives, from our bosses to the law, and then wonder why they complain about the authority we exercise in their lives.
• We keep things for ourselves and then wonder why they are selfish with their siblings.
• We ignore the poor and needy amongst us, perhaps even saying something disparaging about them, then wonder why our children grow up to despise those people, instead of helping them.
• We do a sloppy job on some repair around the home and then wonder why they do a sloppy job on their homework.
• We allow ourselves to remain ignorant on subjects we have never studied and then wonder why our children don’t have a desire to learn.
It’s all about the example we set before them.
They may not hear what we say; but they will always see what we do; and that’s what they will learn to do as well.
So if we want our sons and daughters to grow up to be the kind of people we can be proud of, we must first cause ourselves to be those kinds of people. How can we possibly expect more from them, than we do from ourselves? No, it has to start with us, and then it can go from us to them.
It Starts With You
What do you want your children to learn from you? What sort of character do you want them to have? What sort of person do you want them to be? Make yourself that person first, so that they can have an example to follow and learn how to be that person.
The great thing about this is that it’s never too late to start. No matter where you are now, you can start becoming that person who models the actions, attitudes and words that you want your sons and daughters to display.
Oh, you won’t do it perfect at first; don’t worry about that. You’ll get better; and as you get better, you’ll be a better and better example for them to follow. They won’t remember your failures at the first; they’ll just remember what you instilled into them by your leadership.