Archive | May, 2013

Unspoken words and Untaught Lessons

5 May

Teaching our children becomes second nature once we enter the world of parenthood. It’s as natural as breathing. We teach them to say “mama” and to tie their shoes. We teach them to wash behind their ears and to say “please” and “thank you.” As they get bigger, the lessons get bigger. “Respect your elders, treat others as you want to be treated and remember that no one can ever take your education away from you.” There are lessons on top of lessons, most of which are directly taught with purpose. I guess what I worry most about is the incidental learning. It’s what they hear when we don’t know they are listening, it’s what they pick up from the behaviors we unknowingly model, and what they read between the lines. Children are immature, and they are supposed to be. This immaturity, while appropriate, allows children to make false connections and assumptions about the world around them. Based on the knowledge they have and their egocentric ways, they often believe they are the cause of most things, good and bad. They are the reason their parents are in a good mood and they are the cause of their parent’s divorce. It’s all about them and it should be. It is developmentally appropriate for children to see the world in this way, in a way that revolves around them. They are sponges for everything we say and do. We teach and they learn.
I cannot begin to imagine all the things that you teach your children. I know while it is natural to you, it is also important. My guess is that you talk to them often and find the teachable moments when you can. I applaud you. It’s hard to catch them all. Even the best parents leave things unsaid and lessons untaught. While we don’t always know the incidental lessons they’ll pick up, there is one lesson I’d like to put on your radar so it will be sure to reach your children. I don’t doubt for a second that they can answer anything I ask them about being kind to their neighbor and washing their hands before they eat, but I wonder what they would say if I asked them… “How do you know you are a good person?”
Being a good person is different than being good at things. So for all the soccer games and gymnastic meets we go too – they only tell our kids they are good athletes (at least we believe they are) and we support their efforts. When we buy them toys and electronics it is because their behavior and their grades are good. If that is the case, then what are we doing and saying to let them know they are a good person? I bring this up to you because it matters, a lot.
I won’t ever forget that feeling when I could not answer the question myself. Someone asked me and I was speechless. I had the best parents. They did everything for me, they supported me, they taught me lessons and they bought me things. Life was good, but was I? I was pretty sure I was. Wasn’t that the message they were sending me all those years? Isn’t that what my mother was telling me every time she bragged about me in front of me? Indeed it was.
Although I didn’t answer the question that day, I can answer it now. The journey has been long but it doesn’t have to be. If your words aren’t exact, it leaves things open to interpretation. Why risk it? This is our children’s self image we are talking about. The question doesn’t have to be so difficult and the response can be automatic if the lesson is taught early and often.
While in that moment, I did not know for sure how I knew I was a good person, I knew for sure there was an unspoken message and an untaught lesson I had to get my children… and fast! Over the years it has now become second nature to praise my children for being good people. If ever they were asked how they know if they were a good person, I believe they’d say, “My mom tells me I am.” When I hear stories about what happened on the playground, I respond with things like, “Wow, you are a good friend. I like the way you handled that.” When I see a kind gesture between my children, they are likely to hear, “You’re a good brother, I saw how you helped your sister out.” If you watch your children closely enough, you’ll find ample opportunity to use my favorite line, “Your heart is so good.”
My advice to you is this…Catch them being good! When you recognize that your child does a good thing, makes a move from the heart, shows kindness, empathy, or concern for others, take advantage of that teachable moment to teach them that they are a good person. It’s an invaluable lesson that is more important than eating our vegetables and remembering to say “Yes sir.”