Let Them See You: Modeling Life for Your Kids

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August 19, 2014

This summer brought an unexpected source of amusement. My brother came home from college and awed his girlfriend with his amazing skills: like baking cookies, making enchiladas, and doing his own laundry. We all smile at her amazement because we’ve done these things our whole lives. Believe me, my brother is no gourmet chef! But to someone who grew up without this kind of learning, he knows a lot.

I didn’t think much beyond the humor of my brother as Captain Domestic until a friend told me a story. She grew up with a highly organized mom who kept the house very neat but left her kids’ rooms to them. My friend, at 12 years old, had collected too much stuff, felt claustrophobic, and wanted to really clean her room. Surprisingly, she didn’t know how. Of course, she had chores but had never faced a large organizational challenge in her well-disciplined environment.

Like my brother’s girlfriend, my friend hadn’t been shown the work behind the results whether a meal, clean clothes, or an uncluttered room.

A psychologist named Albert Bandura came up with the “Social Learning Theory” back in the 70’s. He ran an experiment that showed children learn from watching the behavior of others. Now, like most theories, it has holes and can’t be used as a blanket statement. But anyone whose kid has ever blurted out a bad word or yelled at traffic from the back seat can attest to the fact that our kids do what we do!

I dug a little deeper into this idea and read numerous experts talking about teens with drug or alcohol addictions. Every one said that addiction starts very young with what those kids see in the home and how they are able to deal with their emotions. When a child faces a decision, positive or negative, they turn to what they already know. It’s too late to jump in with a clever turn of phrase or a sage word of advice. Living your life openly says more to your kids than a well thought out talk.

So, I asked myself, What am I teaching my kids through things I do?

With that in mind, I want to brainstorm different ways to show our kids how we deal with Life, things like failure, goal setting, stress, and new situations. You’ll see these as I come up with them in weeks ahead. I’m not talking about changing your life or adding more work. This idea is simply a matter of transparency and letting your kids see behind the curtain of what you already do. It might even help you adopt healthier habits for yourself.

Ironically, my daughter put this new thought process to the test a few days ago.  She had a pile of stuff from around the house to put away while I dealt with a pile of clothes that had been neglected until they turned into a swamp of no return. After half an hour, my pile had shrunk by three-fourths and her pile stayed almost as big. I told her to focus a few times and then realized, just like my friend, she didn’t really know how to tackle the jumble. I showed her how I had sorted my swamp into smaller piles based on where they need to go, and then managed each smaller group more efficiently. You won’t believe what happened next. After fifteen minutes, my daughter pointed out her much smaller pile and said, “Thanks Mom for showing me how to do that!”

Well, knock me down with a feather! My ten-year old tornado thanked me for showing her how to clean!

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