If your children were to be asked if they considered you a good example, would you be embarrassed or proud of their answers?
One of the most powerful ways of shaping the behaviour of children is through example. Most responsible adults would like their children to consider them to be people who set an example as parents. One of the ways that we can set such an example is through demonstrating integrity. People generally have a fairly good idea of what integrity means. They will tell you that it refers to being honest, ethical and moral. Few go much further than that, so never consider that the word also refers to a state of being sound and the quality or condition of being complete, whole or undivided.
If you asked most parents if they considered themselves to be people of integrity, you would probably get a resounding, “Yes!”
The reason they would give you is that few people see themselves as dishonest so they want their children to grow up to be honest and ethical and therefore think it’s a good idea to act as an example for them. That’s very good. What many parents don’t realise, though, is that the example they set is not necessarily a good one.
Do parents intentionally set a bad example for their children? I think not. But they often do so unintentionally.
The “do as I say” is a very convenient way of parenting very young children who have to accept their parents’ word as law. They have no other frame of reference in the form of media and friends and other friends’ parents so you’re able to get away with a lot with the, “Because I say so,” answer when questioned.
That won’t however cut with children who have started to think for themselves and certainly not for teenagers who see their friends’ parents in action and have something with which to compare your parenting efforts. That’s why, if you want to be a good example, you have to adopt the “do as I do” approach to parenting.
If you want your children to display exemplary behaviour, you have to display exemplary behaviour to them. For example, if you want your children to be courteous, YOU have to be courteous. If you want your children to be kind, compassionate and considerate, YOU have to be kind, compassionate and considerate. If you want your children to treat other people with respects, YOU must treat them and their mother/father with respect.
That’s what “do as I do” means – you expect them to do it because you are already doing it, not going to do it – maybe – in future.
It’s easy to tell your children that you expect them to be honest. It’s another to demonstrate honesty in everything you do. And honesty doesn’t mean you have a licence to tell people what you think of them (often in a derogatory manner) in the name of being “honest”. That’s not honesty, that’s often just a lack of consideration.
If you don’t start the “do as I do” style of parenting while your children are still young, you’re going to have difficulty getting them to buy into your example when you one day decide to give it a try.
Quite simply, this is one of the main reasons for parents not having influence over their teenaged children. Parents who parent by the “do as I do” method occupy the moral high ground and can hold children to account because they have already held themselves to account. And the beauty of it is that, while your children might not like to admit it to themselves, they will know it and respect you for it. When one day they are parents themselves and you hear them saying the same things to their children as you said to them, you will know you’ve made a success of your parenting!
Alan Hosking is the publisher of HR Future magazine, www.hrfuture.net, and an Age Management and Self- Mastery Coach to senior executives, and the author of best seller What nobody tells a new father.
This article appeared in the July 2015 issue of HR Future magazine.