There was an advert on television some years ago aimed at persuading parents to stop smoking. A dad sat on a park bench, a cigarette between his lips; his son, next to him, picked a blade of grass and mimicked his behaviour. It’s the kind of thing that would be at the bottom of any list of things your kids should see you do.
There’s no question kids learn by watching us – and that’s a terrifying responsibility. However, it also means we have the opportunity to set an example – so here are some things your kids should see you do.
There are so many wonders in life we don’t appreciate – or, if we do, we don’t always remember to show it. Talk to your kids about the importance of not taking anything for granted. Point out the simple things we enjoy without realising – a wildflower meadow in summer, or how good a mug of hot chocolate tastes on a cold winter’s day. Recently, my daughter and I lay outside and stared at the stars, picking out planets and constellations. It was a magical night.
It’s easy to let the romance slip when you’re coping with the hustle and bustle of family life. But affection is a vital ingredient in any successful relationship, and it’s good for kids to see their parents care for each other. Hold hands when you’re walking, share knowing glances at in-jokes, embrace each other when leaving or coming home. Your children should know what a happy, loving relationship looks like. A few years ago, my son said that when he eventually settled down he wanted it to be “just like you and Dad are”. That remains one of my proudest moments.
3Share the work
Let your kids see how everyone plays a part in keeping family life running smoothly. If you cook, perhaps your partner clears away the dirty dishes and loads the dishwasher. If you do the laundry, perhaps they fold it and put it away. Show them how teamwork makes it easier and quicker to get the less enjoyable jobs done so you can all focus on the fun things.
4Show good manners
While having lunch with a friend, I noticed a couple and their kids at the next table. Each time the waiters took over cutlery, drinks and food, the adults simply carried on chatting. I didn’t hear them say ‘thank you’ once. When they asked for condiments, they didn’t say ‘please’. Later, I heard one of the children shouting at the bar staff because he wanted another drink. If our kids don’t see us show respect and consideration to others, how can we expect them to do so?
5Learning & reading
We don’t know everything once we grow up – and our kids won’t, either. Show them how to expand their knowledge, whether it’s by reading more about current affairs, learning and practising a new skill, or just curling up to enjoy a good book. Let them see ‘education’ is more than just going to school – and that it can be fun.
We shouldn’t be afraid to cry in front of our children. They need to know that shedding tears doesn’t make us weak. Crying is a natural way of expressing emotion and can help us process our feelings. My kids saw me sob for hours when my much-loved grandmother died. They also saw I was calmer afterwards and more able to cope with what came next.
No relationship is perfect. Couples who say they ‘never’ disagree are either lying or bottling up every little thing that niggles them. If your children think you never argue, it’s setting unrealistic expectations for their own relationships. Showing them that you’re secure and confident enough as a couple to have opposing views is healthy. Of course, how you resolve your differences is important too. Show them that you respect the other’s views and let them see you work out a compromise.
Apologising doesn’t make you look weak. Seeing you say sorry – and that apology being accepted – demonstrates that mistakes can be dealt with. You’re showing your children how to take responsibility for their own actions and behaviour, and that things can be made right again.
Life is hectic. We’re cooking, cleaning, shopping, doing the school run, working… No wonder kids get the impression being grown up means you’re always on the go! So, sometimes, let them see you stop. Announce that you’re going to sit down with the newspaper for half an hour before you prepare dinner. Invite them to cuddle up with you and talk about their day. Everyone needs some downtime – it’s important they understand this.
To yourself, as well as to others. If something doesn’t go to plan or you make a mistake, don’t beat yourself up. Show the kids that you forgive yourself – that you accept you get things wrong sometimes. This is possibly one of the most important – and most difficult – lessons they can learn.