Thursday, August 12, 2010

Family members as role models—the first school for young children

When my oldest son was eight years old, I was mowing the lawn, and he was walking in my tracks with his plastic lawnmower, following every line, making every turn, and doing exactly what I was doing.  I would wash our car, and exactly the same behavior would take place; he would follow every movement precisely as I preceded him.  This, of course, is the obvious imitation that we all see and sometimes capture with a camera or video recorder.  Imitation, however, often runs much deeper, is less noticeable, and has more profound consequences in the lives of our children.  It goes without saying that parents, caregivers, and family members are vital to the healthy development and growth of children.  Little kids are like sponges—soaking up what they see and hear. 

I have been a writer all of my married life, but one thing my wife made clear very early was that regardless of the time I needed at the typewriter/ computer, it was not just important but necessary for me to be available to our children whenever they asked for attention.  I would take the time to listen to them and talk with them and, often, this took place on my lap in my study.  Those were precious moments (and over so quickly!)  Now, I treat my grandchildren in precisely the same way. 

I thought about this the other day when Mckenzie (9 years old) came into my study to say hello.  She asked what I was doing, although she knows that I write and is familiar with the signs because she has seen them so many times before.  I stopped and explained the essay I was writing, and I showed her the notes I was using.  The notes were part of the daily diary I keep.  She said that she keeps a diary, too, and I let her know what a good idea that is because although our minds are good at remembering things, often it is the specific details that slip away as time passes.  

I showed her some of the entries I had written; I even went back ten or twenty years and showed her some of my earlier diaries.  Mckenzie is a writer, so I showed her the notes I take when my wife and I travel.  She was able to see the process I use as I convert information into essays.  Mckenzie and I, just like our other seven grandchildren, have a warm, comfortable, friendly, talk-oriented relationship.  The Bible says “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it (Proverbs, 22:6).”  Caring adults make huge differences. 

Just as parents are vital to the healthy development and growth of children, grandparents serve a vital role as well.  For example, we can show our love and concern by telling them we love them, showing affection by hugging and kissing them or holding their hands when we go for a walk.  We also make time for special family fun activities. 

Another way grandparents serve a vital role is through communication.  Our grandchildren not only have excellent communication skills, but the channels of communication with us have always been open; we listen to them when they talk.  We find out what is going on in their lives, what they liked best when we visit a museum or zoo, and what their likes and dislikes are.  We find out about their friends, favorite toys, and the things they like doing the most.  Around the table when we eat, they know they can talk and share their ideas with us and other adults. 

By listening to our grandchildren, we show them respect.  When there is an argument or fight between them, we discuss ways to solve problems without arguing or fighting.  Also, we seek their ideas for helping to resolve issues. We explain that their anger, humiliation, or embarrassment is normal, but they must deal with it in peaceful, meaningful, and constructive ways.  Physical force and intimidation don’t solve problems.  Problem solving occurs when there is both respect and supportive, positive communication. 

There are many ways to obtain peaceful solutions to problems.  The first is to talk clearly and calmly.  When they can state the problem and their desire to solve it without fighting, they have moved toward resolving it.  If they can inject humor into the situation by making fun of the problem, it can change the situation from one of hostility and confrontation to friendliness and amelioration.  The art of compromise suggests that conflict situations can have win-win outcomes when both parties are willing to give up something.  Also, kids can be told that it takes more guts and self-respect to walk away from a fight than to fight. 

There is no doubt that parents are a child’s first teachers and role models.  Usually, too, children are more affected by what their parents do than by what their parents say.  They learn how to behave by seeing how their mothers and fathers behave, and they follow their example.  It is like a computer’s default pattern.  That is, when given no specific instructions on how the computer is supposed to deal with a situation, it falls back on the programming it has stored in its memory, and it uses the instructions in that programming. 

Mothers and fathers need to be aware of the “lessons” they are unintentionally teaching their children.  Children learn without parents realizing it.  For example, a great discussion was taking place at the dinner table one day between the adults, and it was thought that all the kids had gone downstairs to play.  Suddenly, one adult turned to see that the oldest of our grandchildren was seated at the table where she had finishing eating, and she was totally absorbed by and involved with the discussion taking place.  She just smiled, knowing that the adults thought none of the kids were listening—and, yet, there she was: absorbing, thinking, learning. 

Have you ever listened to your children playing house?  Often the language they use as they discipline or punish a younger sister or brother takes place in the same sharp tones you use when scolding.  The way your children are treated will directly determine how they treat others. The kinds of things that occupy their interests are precisely those that take place daily around them.  If they use “please” and “thank you” it is only because these good manners are insisted upon by considerate, respectful, and concerned parents.  A Chinese proverb says, “A young branch takes on all the bends that one gives it.” 

Valuing children as human beings, revealing consistency between what you do and what you expect children to do, creating a positive and supportive home atmosphere, accentuating the positive, and modeling and explaining effective, expected behaviors, are just some of the ways adults can influence children.  “Family,” says Alice Sterling Honig, a child development specialist, is the first school for young children....” 


At Family Guide, the essay, “Be a good role model: Somebody is watching you,” is an excellent one and underscores what I have said in the essay above.  Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)—which sponsors this website—ends the essay saying: “Your values, opinions, and example carry more weight with your child than you may have thought. By providing a positive model for your child to follow, you set a good example on how to successfully navigate life's conflicts and negative messages-and to choose healthy behaviors that will follow into adulthood.” 

At Dragos Roua — Brilliantly Better, the essay, “Stop Looking at Role Models to Do the Dirty Work for You,” by Hulbert Lee is a real treat.  Lee writes: “When you look up to someone all your life, someone that’s always there who gives you hope, courage, motivation, inspiration, excitement, desire, or what have you, what happens one day when they don’t have that same impact on you anymore? Who do you really become? Who are you? Are you nobody? Do you feel empty? I know I did… I wondered who the heck I was. I wasn’t a star. I wasn’t a celebrity. I wasn’t someone famous. I was just another person, among the billions of others out there.”  And he gives readers four specific guidelines that are truly spot on.  A great essay. 


Copyright August, 2010, by And Then Some Publishing, LLC.

1 comment:

  1. I guess it is time to give up my crack habit for the sake of my kids.


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