As parents, we often worry about what habits our kids pick up from us. Maybe we try to clean up our language before (or shortly after) a toddler mimics us perfectly. Maybe we try to stop eating nachos for dinner (at least when anyone can see).
But what about what we SHOULD let our kids see? After all, “a lot more is caught than taught”.
There are a lot of little things that we might feel a little weird or shy about letting our kids see, since we might never have seen our parents do them, but it can be very beneficial to our kids to see how we handle certain situations.
As we model the behavior for them, we give them ways to handle and cope with life as they get older.
1. Admit You’re Wrong And Apologize. Gracefully.
We parents are great at getting kids to do this with each other or towards grownups, but how often have they seen us swallow hard and admit we were wrong?
Whether it’s to another grownup or to a kid, a lot of us grownups get out of the habit of giving a sincere, unqualified apology when we should.
We can even tell our kids afterward “That was hard to do. I really don’t like admitting that I’m wrong, but I was, and I needed to apologize for it.”.
It’s good that kids see that we did something difficult because it was right.
2. Give Of Your Time, Money Or Talent
This goes along with doing the difficult, right thing.
Our church talks about giving, but is quick to recognize that not everyone can give financially.
Therefore, they also suggest giving of your time or talents, wherever your heart lies.
If that means the food bank, you can donate a check or bag of groceries, but if you can’t afford that you can offer to help package the bags on giveaway day, or offer to design a poster for the next food drive and put them up around town.
When your kids see that you make time to help others, they’ll see that it’s a worthy use of their time as well.
3. Kiss Your Spouse
We want our private time too, but it’s good for kids to see their parents being affectionate.
Yes, even if they’re at the “ewww! Mom and Dad are kissing again!” phase!
It gives them a healthy view of what a marriage can and should be, even after they have kids of their own.
I know, when do you find the time?
But exercise is important for your health, and if you do it regularly it normalizes it for the whole family.
So many kids start off active, but as their academic career takes more of their day they start to settle into a more sluggish pattern.
Let them see that exercise is a good way to manage stress and help them build it into their day – try bike riding or walking 10,000 steps with them to get them involved!
5. Read A Book
I read a lot in a day, but it often is online.
My kids can’t discern the difference between Mom staring at the screen because she’s reading a news story, and Mom staring at a screen because she’s shopping or watching kitten videos.
When I pick up a book, there’s no doubt what I’m doing – I’m reading.
As they see me enjoying and getting absorbed in a book, they start to see that there’s something to reading besides “My teacher makes me”.
I’ve broken down in front of my kids.
I hate doing it. I feel like an out-of-control wreck when I cry, and I don’t like having witnesses to that, especially young ones.
But it truly is a good thing when kids see parents cry – it helps them realize that Mom and Dad are people with real feelings, just like kids.
And it can prompt an empathetic response, as they try to comfort Mom or Dad – not always a comfortable role reversal, but excellent practice for other situations in life.
7. Get Yourself Under Control When You’re Upset Or Angry
On the flip side, letting your kids see you (start) to lose it… and then get yourself under control?
That’s enormously valuable.
Most young kids don’t know how to get control over themselves when they’re upset or sad or angry – the feelings just feel too big.
If they can see the tools we use to control our big feelings, they can start learning how to regulate their own feelings.
We might have to explain what we’re doing (I’m really mad, so I’m going to count to ten before I do anything.) That gives me a moment to calm down but they’ll pick up on it.
8. Budget, Save And Spend
In many families, kids have no sense of how money is spent on bills, saved, or otherwise used.
They just see what Mom and Dad spend money on, and what that means to them as kids.
But if you want to make a purchase soon and start saving the money away, explain what you’re doing as you transfer the money or put it in the savings jar.
Show them what you’re doing when you pay the bills (as long as that task is something you have or are getting under control – don’t invite them to a monthly panic attack), or how you decide to spend a certain amount before going to the grocery store and don’t go over.
This is another thing that some people get shy about.
Whatever your spiritual practices are, please let your kids see you doing them.
It allows them to see that they can reach out for spiritual help, just like their parents.
10. Make Or Build Something
Not just assembling an IKEA bookcase, either.
Let them see you get creative!
Paint an old piece of furniture, hammer together a composting bin or swing set, or knit a scarf – whatever appeals to you.
As you work on the project, get frustrated, overcome the frustration, employ problem solving techniques, and ultimately finish the project, your child will see all the steps that they’ll need to use as they have to start their own long-term projects later on.
They’ll see you model patience (eventually!), persistence, and follow-through. Those are huge to learn, and even bigger to practice, especially in childhood.
All these things are can be hard to let our children see, because we have these ideas that money, exercise habits, and affectionate moments are very private.
They are, but our kids can and should be privy to those moments so they can learn how to do them themselves, one day.
Some of these things are hard to show our kids… because we’re not that good at them ourselves!
Budgeting, exercising, even reading if we’re out of the habit – all of those could be habits we struggle with ourselves.
But they’re all GOOD habits to pursue, even if we’re not trying to show young people how to do them.
In fact, they benefit from seeing our struggles, as we learn and grow ourselves.
Let them see the process, since they’ll have to go through the process themselves.