Help Me Grow | United Way of Utah County

Setting an Example: The most important tool in your parenting toolkit

 While my husband was away visiting with his elderly parents, he sent me a bouquet of flowers with this note: “My dad was telling me how he got some flowers for my mom the other day because she was depressed and feeling down. It struck me that after all these years of marriage [60+years] he still wants to be that guy who brightens her day. I decided I also want to be that guy”.

It was amazing to me that even now, after so many years, my husband looks to his dad as an example. It struck me that behaviors, traits, and attitudes that we model for our children are not only important, but they are the MOST important thing we can do as parents for our children. The way we speak in front of them, the way we treat others and our lifestyle habits can become deeply ingrained in our children.

Here are a few things to consider:

Speaking in front of your Children

Be mindful of what you are saying and conversations you are having in front of your children. Children interpret conversations based on their own knowledge and experience which is not the same as the adults around them. They may not understand sarcasm, humor or facetiousness the way an adult intends it. According to Brad Sachs, Ph.D., a family psychologist in Columbia, MD and author of The Good Enough Child and The Good Enough Teen “as soon as children can talk, they’re listening to what you say. Kids can be upset and confused by overheard adult conversations. But they may not tell you what they heard — and you won’t even know they’re worried.” You may not like the way you hear your child repeat your conversation. Here are a few tips from Dr. Sachs: Talking Around the Kids: 6 Things to Avoid

Treating others with Respect

We currently live in a world where respect seems to be the exception and not the rule. Parents are openly critical of their children’s teachers, driver’s honk and swear at other drivers on the road, people openly show their disdain for their leaders in government and for those who are attempting to keep law and order and the list goes on. If you want your children to be respectful of you and those around you, you must model it. You do not have to agree with people to be respectful and polite. Show kindness to others regularly and involve your children. Take someone a meal, give some encouragement and work out disagreements with others in a calm and polite manner. Your children are watching. You are teaching them with your actions. Here is a fun video from Sesame Street that defines Respect in a way children (and adults) can understand it: Sesame Street Video: Respect

Lifestyle Habits

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than one-third of children and teens are either overweight or obese. We tend to believe that if we do all the right things (forcing our children to eat vegetables, limiting their access to electronics, signing them up for sports, etc.) we can beat this statistic. However, if you really want your children to be healthy, active and develop good long-standing attitudes towards food, think about what your own attitudes are. Do you exercise regularly? Do you complain about your weight? Do you spend a lot of time in front of the TV? Are family activities usually centered on food or are they often centered on active play?

Ellyn Satter, MS, RD, LCSW, BCD, an internationally recognized authority on eating and feeding encourages families to eat together starting from infancy and on through adolescence. She invites parents to set an example in eating and activity. Instead of focusing on what the child is eating and what they are doing for activity and micromanaging them, she describes a “division of responsibility” for both. Parents manage the “what, when, and where” of feeding and let your child determine how much and whether to eat. For activity, she describes this division of responsibility: “Children are born loving their bodies, curious about them, and inclined to be active. Good parenting preserves and deepens these qualities. A child’s job is to grow into his or her happiest, healthiest self. The job of parents, teachers, and caregivers is to nurture that growth.” For more information go to Ellyn Satter Institute – The Joy of Eating and Feeding.

Your child is watching. Don’t be a “Do as I Say and Not as I Do” parent. Set a good example for him by living your own best life. Your child will thank you one day and he may even grow up and send his wife flowers!

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