We all have those phrases we heard our parents say when we were kids, the ones we swore we’d never use when we become parents. How often have you stopped in astonishment when you hear a phrase exit your mouth you never thought you’d say? The very ones your parents said?
The funny thing about many of those phrases is that — well, they’re true. They’re said with good reason.
Even still, children learn best by modeling. We can preach at them all day long, but at the end of the day, if we’re not doing those things in our own life, it just doesn’t resonate. They’ll still do what we do.
Here are a few things we often tell our children that are just as essential for us.
1. Do your chores.
We have a checklist my daughter uses every morning that guides her through the steps of getting dressed for the day, putting away her jammies, making her bed, and helping me empty the dishwasher.
It’s easy to hound our kids about chores because we want them to learn the value of work. We don’t want them to have a sense of entitlement, or that the house somehow “miraculously” gets clean.
Do you do your chores? Do your children see you care for the home and take care of your belongings? It doesn’t matter if your house is spotless — children rarely care about that — but it is important that they see you in the process of home maintenance. Before you ask your kids to make their beds, make sure yours is already made.
2. Eat your vegetables.
Both my husband and I have a sweet tooth, and so do our kids. Our daughter’s currency is candy — when we need to discipline her, prohibiting her from any candy for a few days is extremely effective.
But we also eat quite healthily. Our general aim is 80 percent of all our food to be rich in nutrients, vitamins, and essential building blocks, and for most of it to be grown locally and without chemicals or pesticides.
Do you snack between meals? Does your home tempt you with sugary or salty treats, loaded with MSG and other chemicals? Kids will understand the value of nutritious food when they see you preparing and eating it also.
Likewise, it’ll be hard for them to not indulge in unhealthy snacks between meals when they see you sneaking some chips.
3. Be kind.
Photo by D. Sharon Pruitt
Thankfully, our two children love each other and enjoy spending lots of time together. But that doesn’t mean we don’t deal with the occasional hair pulling, pushing, or refusal to share. They’re kids.
I doubt many of us actually pull our neighbor’s hair when we’re frustrated at her. But do we talk about her behind her back? Do you discuss the annoyances of certain people — your coworkers, your inlaws, your neighbors — around the dinner table? Or when someone cuts you off in traffic — what do you say in your car with your kids in the backseat?
My husband and I made a decision before kids came along that we would never speak poorly about each other’s parents in front of the kids. If we wanted them to respect their elders, we needed to model the same.
I’m not saying we should feel guilty if we’re not perfect. But as the grownups, we should keep a healthy guard around what we say about others and how we treat others — especially when our kids are with us.
4. Run and play.
Kids have boundless energy, but when the TV is on all day, they’re easily sucked in to vegging on the couch and watching two-dimensional people live lives. I’m amazed at how often my daughter will invent her own imaginative games and scenarios when she’s left to her own devices.
Is TV your default? Or do your kids see you actively use your body? You don’t have to be an exercise junkie, but it is important that your children witness you caring for your body. If they see you working out a few times a week, they’ll be much more likely to do the same.
My daughter loves “working out” with me. Sure, when we do my yoga DVD she mostly giggles at the goofy poses and invents new clever ways to stand, but she’s moving her body and seeing me do the same.
Likewise, I do my best (though it’s not always possible in seasons of extreme busyness) to keep my computer work during hours when they’re sleeping, so that I’m on my feet during my kid’s waking hours.
5. Go outside.
Photo by Rolands Lakis
Children are drawn to the outdoors, and many of them could play and explore for hours if we allow them. Do you join them? I like our kids spending solo time among the trees and grass, but it’s also healthy for them to see their parents enjoying nature.
As we discussed earlier this year while reading Last Child in the Woods during our Book Club, kids will appreciate nature when we prioritize it in our families. An hour a day outside makes a world of difference in our understanding the natural world and with our physical health.
6. Money doesn’t grow on trees.
Or some other version of this phrase that explains that our bank accounts are finite. I remember when my daughter was younger, I relished that she didn’t understand we could actually buy anything in the store. So I’d let her look at one of the board books in the cart, and when we were done shopping, I’d go return it, with her never the wiser.
Those days are long gone for her. But the same principle remains — just because everything in the store is on sale, doesn’t mean we can afford everything. We have limits, and we earn money by working hard for it.
Do you pick up little tchotchkies in the dollar section at Target, even if you don’t really need them? It’ll be a bit harder to say no to your kids when they beg for those little trinkets in the toy section they also don’t need.
Can your kids witness you and your spouse managing the money? Even if they don’t understand the math, can they see you paying bills, budgeting, keeping records, and discussing larger purchases? This sets the foundation for wise financial stewardship later in life.
7. Go to bed.
Ah, the ultimate directive — very few of us are lax on our kids’ bedtimes. We’re absolutely wiped out by the end of the day, and we can’t wait to have a few hours of grownup time. Talking without interruptions, discussing world events instead of our favorite colors, and getting a few things checked off our list… Bedtime is bliss.
But many of us use that time to get more done than we should. If you’re like me, you get a second wind when the kids go down, and feel like you can finally clean, check email, and fold laundry without the baby coming along and unfolding it.
It’s a great time to be with your spouse and to get important things done. But we need to go to bed, too. Even if our kids are unaware what time we head to bed, they are privy to the aftereffects if we’re grumpy, lazy, and lethargic the next day.
Don’t try to be Superwoman. You need lots of sleep as well. Just like our kids need sleep so their bodies can recover from the day, we need to treat our bodies kindly and give them rest. A few weeks ago, Lisa wrote some great tips for moms to get adequate sleep.
What are your favorite phrases you say to your kids? With what phrase are you convicted about being a bit of a — well, hypocrite?