There’s a universal teaching that goes something like this: “What you plant is what you grow.” It doesn’t matter what religion you are, where your walk of life resides, your financial situation, or your education level – you are not going to get turnips if you plant tomatoes.
This line of thinking is especially true when it comes to raising a family. The amount of work you put into your family is directly connected with the values and knowledge your children will come away with as they develop into adults. Are you hoping your child grows up to be a responsible adult? Do you hope he will be honest? Is it your desire that she is successful? Do you want them to be kind to others, unselfish, and able to take care of themselves when on their own?
What are you doing to get there?
When children are babies, they aren’t born knowing how to walk. In fact, the concept didn’t even occur to them. But as they get older, they see us walking around. And it gives them the idea that they can do it too. We prompt them to come to us, holding our hands out to give them the courage to let go of the table and take a step forward. Our presence gives them assurance. But it’s our example of walking that really teaches them the concept behind standing on their own two feet.
Children learn by watching everything we do. They see when we’re honest, and they see when we lie. They learn to communicate by our personal skills of communicating (think of that every time you lose your temper…). If you are living your life with the same values you hope your children will grow up with, there’s a pretty good chance they will.
Eventually kids get old enough to want to ride a bike. So what do we do? We buy them a shiny new bicycle. But we don’t say, “Ok, go ride it.” Instead we put training wheels on it and show them how the pedals work as well as how to steer it. We give them rules to abide by, and then watch them as they teeter along the road. When they’re ready, we take the training wheels off and run alongside them holding on to the back of the seat. But we don’t hold onto that seat forever, we hold on only long enough to give them the confidence they can do it. As soon as they have gathered enough speed and we can feel them taking control of their balance, we let go.
Children aren’t born knowing how to ride their bike, how to do their chores, or how to handle their money or workload. They need guidance to learn these things. But they also need to accumulate independence. You must teach them everything you hope they’ll be able to do on their own. But as soon as they’ve got a handle on it, let go.
Sometimes things in the family aren’t fine. Dad lost his job. Grandma’s health is failing. The mortgage bill is three months past due. Mom has too much on her plate. Things aren’t going perfectly. And when we’re upset, it’s obvious. Our children sense it. But what to we say when asked if everything is ok? “Everything is fine.” We want to protect the kids from feeling our stress or worrying. But what we are really teaching them is to sweep all their problems under the carpet and just stuff it. We are teaching them that problems are not normal, and they shouldn’t be shared out in the open. We are teaching them to go through suffering alone.
If things aren’t fine, it’s ok for kids to know. Of course, you have to be cognizant of their age in how much is shared. But if you’re worried or upset about something, lying about it doesn’t teach them anything. There are times when things are NOT fine. And it’s ok to admit that.
And most important…
What if we were to say one kind and affirming thing to our children every single day? I’m not just talking about saying “I love you”, though we should be telling them that more than once a day. But something more specific: “You are very generous when you ____.” “You are an amazing ____.” “I’m proud of how you ____.” “You have a gift with ____.”
What would happen if someone said something like this to YOU every day? Wouldn’t you feel really good? Wouldn’t you try harder, knowing your efforts are noticed as well as being proud of yourself?
It’s hard to have a chip on your shoulder when you’re being complimented for something you have been working really hard on. Same goes for your sullen teenager. I promise you, a little kindness goes a long way. Tell them exactly what is amazing about them. Compliment them on their efforts. Build them up. And the next day? Repeat. Don’t let a day pass without giving at least one example of how awesome they are. With time, it will create peace and harmony in the household. Everyone will be happier. And more effort will be made knowing that efforts are being noticed. Who knows? Maybe they might turn around and give some of it back to you.
Oh, and don’t just use this bit of kindness on the kids, include your spouse too. Want that honey-do list whittled down? Praise his way of getting a certain task done whenever he does it. And for even better results, tell him how sexy he looks doing it.