If you were to Google ”parents’ values” or ask other parents on Facebook what are the best values to teach our children you will get a list that looks something like this.
We would agree that’s a good list but a list isn’t the hard part; practicing the list is the hard part. Printing the list and hanging it on the refrigerator is easy. We have done similar things as parents. When a list is visible, it can serve as a reminder and help prompt you to make better, wiser choices, and I understand that.
However, simply memorizing a list, (and hold on here, this could get theologically bumpy for some of us) even the 10 Commandments, has little to no value when stored in short-term memory. “Most of the information kept in short-term memory will be stored for 20 to 30 seconds,” which is hardly enough time to bring about life change. So the question is, how?
How Do We Teach Healthy Values To Our Kids?
The "what" is easy, it's the "how" that gets us. If we want to teach our children healthy values then we must embrace them first. Here are three reminders for us as parents.
First Reminder: Short-term memory does not affect long-term behavior.
Second Reminder: Long-term behavior is modeled over time not overnight.
Third Reminder: It’s unfair to expect our kids to listen to what we say and ignore what we do.
Accidental or Incidental?
Here’s an unconventional parenting thought. Don’t worry about teaching lists to your kids. Practice the list as a parent. Your example will teach your kids the qualities on the list. Experts have a word for this kind of modeling and absorbing of behavior and it’s called incidental learning. “Incidental learning is a process by which children identify with and imitate their parents behavior.” Do you know what this tells me? It tells me, “WE ARE THE LIST!”
I know what you are thinking. "What if I have blown it?" Or, "I blow it all the time!" Parents aren't perfect and when each of us blow it or make mistakes we own it, ask forgiveness of our children and move on. How do you think our kids learn forgiveness? By watching it modeled in their home! Let's not beat ourselves up as parents. Forget the past and reach forward to what's ahead.
A Great Story
In Gilda Radner’s book It’s Always Something, she recounts a story from her childhood:
When I was little, (Dibby’s) cousin had a dog, just a mutt, and the dog was pregnant. I don’t know how long dogs are pregnant, but she was due to have her puppies in about a week. She was out in the yard one day and got in the way of the lawn mower, and her two hind legs got cut off. They rushed her to the vet and he said, “I can sew her up, or you can put her to sleep if you want, but the puppies are okay. She’ll be able to deliver the puppies.”
Dibby’s cousin said, “Keep her alive.”
So the vet sewed up her backside and over the next week the dog learned to walk. She didn’t spend any time worrying, she just learned to walk by taking two steps in the front and flipping up her backside, and then taking two steps and flipping up her backside again. She gave birth to six little puppies, all in perfect health. She nursed them and then weaned them. And when they learned to walk, they all walked like her, taking two steps in the front and flipping up their backside.” (See Footnote 1)
Why did the puppies walk like their mother? Because babies are great imitators of their parents.
I believe the toughest part of parenting is the constant modeling of behavior without a break or momentary reprieve. We simply can’t model the right behavior all the time. So, when we model the wrong behavior we can immediately model the right behavior by modeling humility, understanding and asking for forgiveness.
We listen, learn, watch, read, think and talk about how to be better as parents. Not perfect parents, just better parents by making an effort to learn what we can so that we will model the best we can, every opportunity we can.
What is the most difficult value to model for your kids?
1. Gilda Radner, It’s Always Something (NewYork:SimonandSchuster,1989),pp.268-269.