What is it about preschoolers that can bring out the worst in us? One day, my daughter Heidi was upset with me but still being a young child with a small vocabulary, she turned to me, stomped her foot and shook her finger at me exclaiming “No mommie!’ I was stunned. Not because she said “no”, actually “no” seemed to be her favorite word those days. But because she stomped her foot and shook her finger at me. That was over the top. I immediately began to think of which neighborhood kids had taught Heidi this disrespectful response. Then before I knew it, I found myself responding to her by saying “you don’t say no to me.” As I stomp my foot and shook my finger at her. Now I knew where she had picked up this bad behavior-ME.
Why can’t kids do what we say and not what we do? Why can’t our kids put their backpacks in their rooms even though our purses are tossed on the kitchen counter? Why can’t they talk with a gentle tone of voice even though ours is often a snarl? Why can’t kids come to complete stops at stop signs even though they’ve spent 16 years watching us roll through them? The truth is God wired us to follow people’s actions more closely than their words.
When I teach discipline classes to parents and teachers I always begin asking the group to tell me how they want their kids to act at age 25. Words like responsible, independent, respectful, caring, happy, and understanding are written on the board. Then I ask “How are you doing at doing these things?” Then I have to confess that every discipline principle I teach them will not be as powerful to shape their kids behaviors than their own actions.
If we want our kids to be respectful, do they see us treat others respectfully? If we want them to be responsible, do they see us take responsibility for our mistakes? What do your kids learn from what they see you do? Kind of scary if you let yourself think about it. Proverbs 10:17 says “… whoever ignores correction leads others astray.” Now if I was writing this proverb, I would have said that if you ignore correction, you will go astray. But that’s not the message in the scriptures here. Acting in ways you know you shouldn’t doesn’t just mess up your life, it leads others lives to get messed up too.
Let me say that the goal here is not to be sneaky around your kids. Smoking away from the house, telling tasteless jokes when they leave the room, or only calling your spouse names with the door shut creates more problems not less. Just struggle to honestly be the kind of person you want your kids to be.
Don’t pretend that your kids don’t understand what you say or do. Believe me, I know, kids pick up everything. Even finger pointing and foot stomping.