Modelling behaviours you want your child to develop is the best way to raise happy, well-adjusted adults.
CRY: A lot of children think that crying means they are a baby, or weak or deficient in some way, or defective, that they should be able to override feelings of loss and sadness. When these feelings do come up, then they deal with it in a non-healthy way. Human beings are feeling machines. We feel, and when we show or demonstrate that to our children, when we live in front of our children in a way that underscores that truth, then they become at ease with sadness, which is a very, very human emotion.
STRUGGLE: Only by seeing parents struggle do children understand that that’s a natural part of life – and that when we face our struggles, when we try to work around them, we are demonstrating resilience, which is a hugely important quality to help children. Let your kids see you struggle and how you handle it, how you get through it, how you rest, or you ask for help.
KISS YOUR PARTNER: Some marriages, when kids come along, become partnerships – and they should be – but if we want to model what it is like to love and be loved in a romantic way, then we have to let our kids see what that looks like. That in the midst of making dinner and shuttling kids, figuring out who is going to drive carpool etc there is affection and warmth between parents.
EXERCISE: It sets an expectation for this is how your day looks, that you not only take care of the matters of your mind, but also you do maintenance for your body. If we can help our kids feel that it’s abnormal or weird to not exercise, then we at least nudge them in the direction of making that a lifelong habit.
PLAN YOUR BUDGET: Many parents want to shield their children from money issues but it’s important that parents live within their means and let their kids learn what it is to have an amount of money that you can spend. Start to talk about how much things cost, how much is your rent, how much is your car payment, so that they aren’t flopped into adulthood after high school or university unprepared.
BE PRAYERFUL: Children are actually pretty spiritual by nature. They want to understand what life is about and why are we here. Many of us sweep that under the rug because we don’t have any simple answers, but sometimes the simplest answer is demonstrated by our own activity. Let your children see you have a practice that anchors you internally. It could be prayer, it could be meditation, some kind of spiritual activity on a regular basis. It’s really important for children to see that life isn’t all about outward achievement and acquisition.
VOLUNTEER: When children see their parents volunteer, it becomes part of life that we give back, that we give our time, not just write a cheque. It doesn’t necessarily mean signing up to help for a weekend marathon, but it could. It might be helping an elderly neighbor next door, walking their dog when she is not feeling well. It restores a sense of balance, and it also is one of the most effective ways for children to feel that they are meaningful and that they matter when they can improve or uplift someone else—not just mum or dad.
LEARN: Learning is a lifelong pursuit and an essential one, especially if you want to get pragmatic about it. This is a time when our kids are probably going to change careers many times in one life, so they need to have the comfort and the agility to learn new things. The best way to position them to get comfortable with that is to see parents doing it. Learn a new instrument, take an online class about something you’ve always wanted to know about, or just read. Kids who see parents read tend to read more.
BE CREATIVE: It’s important that your kids see you living and engaging in the 3D world in interesting ways, ways that foster that part of you that is more the right brain by expressing yourself artistically and creatively in some small way. Play the piano, draw, sketch, write, cook, listen to music. It doesn’t have to be that you’re good at it in a conventional sense. It’s not about accomplishing something or checking it off your list, it’s just for the sake of art.
BE KIND TO YOURSELF: Parents are the hardest on themselves. They are just brutal, reviewing at the end of the day everything that went wrong. Children should see their parents being kind to themselves. Learn how to speak nicely about yourself. They should see their parents acknowledge what’s going well, what they are grateful for. It’s essential that parents really model for their children self-love, self-care and self-kindness.
– Susan Stiffelman is a family therapist