“Be the change you wish to see in the world.”
The quote is attributed to Ghandi in his fight for non-violent independence. But to me, it is the inspiration for a parenting style that I very strongly believe in.
Whatever you want your children to be, you must be those things first.
Children learn in a number of ways. One of the main methods of learning is modeling. Your children watch what you and other adults around them do. They then copy or “model” the behavior. It’s why a child will mime Mom putting on lipstick or Dad shaving.
Children also learn by listening, although it doesn’t always seem so. Your words do matter. But if you say one thing and do something else, you send a confusing message. And in almost every situation, your actions will override your words.
This is why you need to watch what you do and what you say around your children or grandchildren.
You want your children or grandchildren to be healthy? Don’t just tell them. Show them. Start by eating healthy yourself. When you do, you demonstrate a congruency between your actions and your words that will strengthen the message you are trying to teach. When you eat something that is not considered particularly healthy, such as pepperoni pizza or an ice cream sundae, explain that this is an exception and, sometimes, it’s okay to be a bit flexible.
Being healthy also means exercising in some way. You don’t have to be a competitive bodybuilder; just don’t be a complete couch potato. One of the best ways to demonstrate the benefits of exercise is to simply take a walk with your child or grandchild. I realize it’s possible you might have a physical limitation that would prevent you from doing this or seriously impair your ability to demonstrate the benefits of exercise. However, you can sit and watch them – and applaud them – when they exercise.
I’ve focused first on health because it has been a serious issue in our country with child obesity problems and increases in other health-related issues in children. However, there are other equally important areas of a child’s development where your behavior can have a positive impact.
To teach your children kindness, you must exude kindness yourself. Kindness is as simple as holding a door open for someone else or helping someone pick up something they have dropped. Small and random acts of kindness can do a great deal of good and can help develop this trait in the children in your life.
You can also help your child learn responsibility for their actions by example. This could be admitting when you’ve made a mistake, keeping your promises (or having a serious or legitimate reason for not being able to), and setting goals that you then carry through on.
These are just some of the ideas I have read up on and incorporated into my parenting style.
It isn’t always easy. We are constantly teaching our children and grandchildren, even if we aren’t always aware of it. And they are constantly challenging us and testing us as part of their natural growth process.
But by setting a good example for your children and grandchildren, you are providing a foundation and a set of rules by which they can learn to grow, connect and succeed in whatever world they will live in. Technology may change. Jobs may change. But basic human values – responsibility, honesty, kindness and good health – endure.
So, let me paraphrase my original quote. Perhaps you don’t need to be the change as much as you need to actually be the legacy you want to leave in the world.
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