Josie Ortega writes about how to raise readers, bikers, and generally good citizens—show them by example. Read on for some great parenting tips!
I noticed something this week. Thinking about what I’d like to see my kids learn provides a nice window into what my own personal goals should be.
When I spotted some litter outside our neighborhood school, I asked my kids to pick it up and toss it in the garbage can. (Hand sanitizer at the ready!) It felt like a teachable moment, a good way to convey the importance of taking care of our community.
I realized that I want to raise people, future adults, who have the character to pick up trash, even if it’s not theirs. And quickly after, I realized that I’m not necessarily the type of person to pick up trash as I stroll through the neighborhood.
Maybe before I direct my kids to a task, I ought to work on that behavior for myself. My hypothesis is that they’ll internalize that this is how we do things. They won't think too much about it. The attitude will be caught, not taught.
It’s a simple idea: we need to model the behaviors we want to foster in our children. Like I said, simple. But simple doesn’t necessarily mean easy.
Ask me in a year if my kids are cleaning up trash on their own!
We see that children pick up our behaviors and mannerisms, in their pretend play, and in the language they begin to use with others.
For a long time, my daughter utilized the wooden block of butter from the play kitchen as her cell phone. She chatted with her friends and took pictures just like I did. What a sad day, when the butter phone was lost!
This teach-by-example concept applies to many areas:
Unfortunately, the example thing also works in the negative sense. When my kids’ habits are really irking me, there’s a good chance it’s because the people who bother us the most are the ones most like us.
I instituted a new rule in our house recently: Don’t throw things on the floor. Just put something away where it goes, am I right??
The very same evening, I went to a friend’s house, exhausted by parenting, relieved to be hanging out with adults. Immediately upon walking into the kitchen, I dropped my coat and bag on the floor.
You spot it, you got it.
If I’m bothered at how much my kids are attracted to phones and devices, it’s clear that I myself might benefit from a digital detox of some kind.
One goal that will serve our whole family is to foster a culture of reading—reading on actual, physical paper.
Over Christmas break, I indulged in plenty of leisure reading. I finished a couple of books that had been languishing on my nightstand for months and blew through a couple of new page-turners. I easily get caught up into stories in any format. Reading a hardcover book, however, was much more relaxing than binge-watching and snuggling up with my laptop.
Many of us feel guilty—oftentimes with good reason—at how much time we spend on our phones and other devices, even and especially when our kids are around.
Don’t feel too bad. Susan Dominus points out in the New York Times Magazine that prior to smartphones, parents did all the things we use our phones for: checking the weather, looking up a phone number, paying bills, finding a recipe. But it was clear to children what their parents were doing. “When my mother was curious about the weather, I saw her pick up the front page of the newspaper and scan for the information.”
She suggests narrating to our children what we’re doing on the phone, in order to increase transparency in our parenting. Also, we can establish "sacred spaces" like the dinner table, where we don’t bring our devices.
While we don’t need to feel guilty about reading for entertainment, when possible, we can let our kids see us reading a magazine, book, or newspaper, rather than articles on our phones.
The adults in the house may feel more relaxed as a result of reading on the physical page, and the kids will pick up on the idea that reading is a great thing.
I love the story that Tim Scott, U.S. Senator from South Carolina, tells about his grandfather who scanned the newspaper at the breakfast table every morning. Senator Scott remembers learning the importance of reading from his grandfather. Years later, he realized that his grandfather couldn’t read.