Monkey see, monkey do

If you talk with a DMV employee who administers driver’s license tests to teenagers, they will tell you that the most common error that prevents kids from passing is failure to come to a complete stop when required. That’s right: pausing at stop signs is the number one reason kids fail the driving test. Parallel parking is tricky, but coming to a complete stop is not. Why don’t they stop? Testers say kids don’t completely stop because their parents don’t either.

What about “do as I say, not as I do?” It’s a catchy phrase, but it doesn’t work. It would be nice if we could give our children a list of dos and don’ts for behavior in life, while we spend much of our time in the “don’ts” column. But that’s not the way it works.

You are your child’s first and constant role model. When they’re little, your children look up at you on your pedestal in adoration. Then come the middle school years when you most likely fall off the pedestal (you know you never should have been up there anyway) in your child’s eyes.

But that’s okay. You have already instilled core values in your children by middle school, so no matter how far you fall from super hero status, the values you have taught can’t be completely washed away. They may be ignored in the midst of teenage rebellion, but they can’t be un-learned. If you really taught them, of course.

Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it. Proverbs 22:6

The best way to teach is to do. Most parents tell their kids not to cuss, but how many of them say “fiddle sticks!” when they drop a homemade birthday cake on the way to the kitchen table. Most people don’t say, “that’s dangerous, but maybe the driver had a really bad day and is distracted,” when a car cuts them off on the highway. Some people are the ones who cut other cars off on the highway.

Your kids are watching you. They see how you interact with your spouse, how you treat others, the work ethic you demonstrate, the time you devote to serving the community and your attitude in general. Children witness their parents’ relationships with God. They notice if attending church service is worth getting out of bed on Sunday morning. They observe their parents in both good times and challenging times. A child knows whether or not you are thankful for life’s blessings and whether you lean on your faith during tough times.

If you don’t practice what you preach, your kids will learn that whatever you are preaching is not important.

Make it a priority to show your children how to live life in the “dos” column.