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What Are You Modeling for Your Kids?

What Are You Modeling for Your Kids?

By Joel Christie

How do your kids see you? As someone who handles problems with confidence and figures things out? Someone who is patient with others even when you are frustrated? Someone who is in control of him or herself? From the time kids come into the world, they are absorbing how to do life from us, their parents. They're absorbing what anger, and problem-solving, and anxiety, and sadness, and happiness, and confidence look like. Little if any of this is done consciously, especially at first. It’s experiential. It’s feeling mom or dad’s gentle arms of comfort, or hearing them yell, or seeing their loving smiles. It’s the feeling of having your attention verses not having your attention. It happens when they see how dad reacts if someone treats him rudely, or when they ask mom yet another question at the end of a stressful day and she still manages a gentle response. It’s little pieces at a time that are building an encompassing experience for the child that will deeply impact how they eventually interact with and understand the world around them.

Often I hear parents tell me things like, “He makes me crazy!” or, “She won’t listen to me!” or, “There’s nothing I can do when they throw a fit like that in the store.” It offers insight into how these people see themselves as parents: Does this woman believe she’s equipped to handle this difficult situation? Does this man feel strong here? Capable? It’s unlikely, given the vast power they ascribe to their child while portraying themselves essentially as victims at the emperor’s mercy. This is not to say the shrill cry of your three-year-old will not effect you, regardless of how grounded and healthy your self image might be—indeed, it will physiologically effect you, spiking your blood pressure and giving you an immediate jolt of stress to deal with. But for those who recognize such moments for what they are—invaluable opportunities—these parents can learn to navigate these rough emotional waters and to exemplify the characteristics they most hope to increasingly see within their children: self control, confidence, kindness, respectfulness, gentleness, and even empowerment.

The thing is, regardless of whether the parent is cognitively aware of it or not, the child is going through an imprinting process here. He or she is experiencing how YOU experience stress in these moments. When your son is throwing a fit in the store, and you come roaring back at him, shouting for him to shut up, he might actually shut up for the time being, halted by fear or shock. But he will also vividly experience you displaying what happens when you feel upset or stressed or annoyed: you shout and yell. Or you ignore your child. Or you respond calmly bur firmly. Or you throw up your hands and look for the wine aisle. Or a thousand other ways, all of which will be experienced both by you and by your child.

It should not surprise us when our children exhibit behaviors and characteristics similar to our own. It should also not surprise us if our children can eventually beat us at our own game. For example, we may discover that next time we have to shout louder to achieve the same results, or worse that we end up escalating things beyond shouting, demonstrating our own inability to remain in control. But the inverse may also happen where we demonstrate that when our son or daughter loses control, that they still see in us a picture of someone who is calm but firm, safe, and able to handle the child’s tantrum without succumbing to one of our own. Our kids are absorbing from us all the time. So be intentional. “You were feeling some big emotions back there in the store, but we don’t yell at people and throw things. That’s not okay.” Yelling and shouting may achieve short term results, but the long term cost will likely be exorbitant.

I don’t want to offer a false portrait of reality here: this isn’t implying that if you can only

manage to act perfectly all the time and never lose your cool then you will have kids who are also perfect angels. You’re allowed to feel frustrated, annoyed, sad, and all the rest of it, just as your kids are. But this discussion doesn’t need to be about perfection: it’s about being more aware and making a commitment towards your own character growth to enable you to model the kinds of behaviors you want to see in your children. And also in yourself.

Built for Hard Times
Thoughts From Relationship Land 2

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