The Children Are Watching—and Learning
Five things you can do to prepare yourself.
Posted Dec 20, 2018
Recently my younger daughter asked me to drive a friend of hers to meet my daughter at a local barn. It was just me and my daughter’s friend in the car and we were chatting about different things. We learned we shared the same birthday and talked about what it is like to be a Scorpio. Later, a day or two after the fact, my daughter told me that her friend hoped that she could grow up to be as “calm and nice” as I am.
I had no idea what she was talking about and then she relayed that this friend had observed me letting someone pull out of a side street in front of me and I was speaking nicely to the person telling them “you can go ahead.” It was interesting to me because I barely registered that I had done this, but this friend was watching and taking it into account.
Contrast this with another friend of my daughters who told me “My dad doesn’t respect women.” I was taken aback and asked her why she would say such a thing. “He was listening to someone on the radio and he said ‘shut up, Liz’. This lady was recently elected and he never, ever says things to men who are on the radio saying mean things about women.” Turns out this was one of our Senators who won reelection here locally and this man has a different political viewpoint. However, his daughter didn’t care about the politics – she cared that she hadn’t heard him talk back to any male politician (even one denigrating women) but she heard him tell a woman on the radio to “shut up.”
These both might seem like minor things – kids just don’t understand, right? But, they do. They are watching all of the time and the old adage, “Do what I say, not what I do” just doesn’t fit anymore. The generations continue to get savvier and have more perspective. Younger people have access to news 24/7 on their mobile devices, many school systems teach more advanced life skills and kids are involved in more activities which means meeting more people and having, often times, a broader perspective.
The kids of today are the adults of the future and modeling the behavior you want, rather than what you don’t want is really key. If you have children, or grandchildren, or nieces and nephews or stepchildren or you are just around any children who might be watching you, consider doing some of the following:
- Practice self-reflection. It really is so easy to point the finger and watch what the other person is doing and criticize or correct, but it can be really tough to be honest about your own behavior. The car ride incident reminded me that we can go throughout our day doing our normal activities without being at all aware of what choices we are making, and how they may impact someone. This is the “theatre of one’s self” where you play the actor or actress on the stage but don’t step outside your act to watch what you are doing. Catch yourself several times throughout the day to self-reflect – watch as if you were the other person in the car, or walking alongside you and see yourself through the lens of another.
- Ask someone you trust how they view you. What strengths do they observe? What things might you be able to do differently and better? Most people reject any sort of negative input, and some even struggle taking a compliment. Don’t wait for someone to tell you when you aren’t ready to hear it, ask someone you trust. Be careful with this one – if your spouse is upset with you, or your child isn’t speaking to you, or your friend always tells you that you are a jerk, don’t choose that person! This is someone who would offer an objective viewpoint of how you come across – what you do well, and where you might want to consider making a change. A therapist can be helpful with this, although remember someone like that knows only what you might share and doesn’t see you in the day-to-day.
- Consider what you want your legacy to be with the next generation, or two. How would you want to be talked about and remembered if you were to pass today? While you might find this a morbid exercise, it’s a good reminder that time passes quickly. Be deliberate about being the kind of person you want to be remembered as being! If you start each day with a deliberate focus on what matters, and how you want to be known, and what things are most important to you – it will be easier to remember as you go throughout your day and you start to make a choice that isn’t the best one for you. It’s about being more conscious about what you want and what you don’t want in your life.
- Record yourself in daily conversations. This is easy with a mobile phone - don’t record other people but rather yourself in conversation on the phone, or talking to others. Listen to your tone, your word choice and the way you speak to someone – are you respectful? Are you fair? Are you considerate of their feelings? This goes back to the self-reflection idea and takes it one step further. If you have ever been videoed as part of training, or have had a chance to view footage of yourself when you didn’t know someone was taking your pictures, you’ll understand how valuable it can be to see yourself “live”. This isn’t to beat up on yourself, it is merely to help you raise awareness of what you say and how you come across. Many parents are shocked when their child says a bad word, or has a negative tone, or is sarcastic and they don’t realize, it is a mimic of what they, as parent, likely do to the child.
- Treat the children with respect. In fact, treat everyone with respect. Just because someone hasn’t had as many years on this earth as you have doesn’t mean they are any less important or deserving of consideration. Often times people act as if kids don’t exist – they basically ignore them. They have a heart, mind, and soul just like everyone else and everything they see and hear is being filtered, considered, adopted or rejected. Be aware of how you treat others.