The behavior you see from your child is the behavior they learn from you.
”Do as I say, not as I do” was a regularly heard phrase for my generation. We Gen Xers grew up in a world where our parents told us what to do while doing the opposite.
It never made sense to us because we’d get in trouble for doing what our parents did. If they did or said certain things, indeed, it was OK for us, too. Right? Not according to many parents of the Boomer generation.
I never understood where or when that phrase started (and still don’t). But that type of parenting stuck with me and I carried it into my adulthood and “first” family life. I say the first family because my husband and I raised our twin grandsons between ages 3 and 7 after raising our children.
Now I see Millennials and Gen Z parenting similarly because that’s what they learned from us, who learned it from our parents in this never-ending, generational punitive parenting cycle.
The “do as I say, not as I do” approach didn’t work well with my kids, the same as it didn’t go over well with me. And there’s a reason for that. Children learn by what they see.
They watch how you handle stress, treat other people, perform essential functions of everyday life and see how you manage your emotions. It’s called Social Learning Theory and Modeling, introduced by psychologist Albert Bandura.
I highly recommend you look that up because it shows an intriguing theory that children mimic what they see, whether it’s positive or negative. Bandura conducted Bobo doll experiments in which children watched adults behave a certain way with the doll, either passively or aggressively. The results were remarkable.
If the children observed an adult using aggressive behavior with the Bobo doll, they acted aggressively. The same was true for passive behavior. Bandura determined that children learn social behaviors through observation, shaping how they interact with others and the world.
If you have children in your home, then take heed. You’re surrounded by astute observers, watching everything you do and listening to everything you say (and how you say it). When you tell your child to do one thing while you do the other or behave a certain way but punish your child for the same behavior, what are they learning from you? And how does that affect them long term? Good questions, indeed, and worth thinking about if you haven’t already.
Whatever undesirable behavior you’re experiencing is potentially learned behavior, that repeated cycle of punitive, authoritative parenting we had growing up. Like many of you, I’ve struggled with this as well. I had to take a different approach to parenting the second time around because, as usually is the case, I realized my mistakes with my children in hindsight.
Honestly, I didn’t have much choice. My grandsons have many special needs, ranging from autism spectrum disorder and disruptive mood dysregulation disorder to severe ADHD, Tourette’s syndrome, sensory processing disorder, anxiety and depression. Helping them learn to regulate their emotions was one of the biggest challenges we faced. Traditional, authoritative, punitive parenting with them was like throwing gasoline on a bonfire.
They were not going to learn how to regulate their emotions if we couldn’t handle our own. Controlling my feelings as I dealt with the sudden change of raising kids again was an even more significant problem because it set our whole family’s tone.
Ever heard the saying, “If mama ain’t happy, then no one is happy?” I experienced everything from grief and resentment to depression and anxiety multiple times a day for weeks and months when we first took them into our home. Over the next several years, we learned about more effective parenting strategies and styles that led to fantastic success.
It’s called conscious parenting, which has emerged in recent years after decades of studying family dynamics, children’s behavior patterns and the rise of mental health disorders, violence and crime. Conscious parenting means being proactive instead of reactive.
It means being aware of the choices you make and the behaviors you model for your child. It’s about taking the time to think before you react with your child and being self-aware. When you become a conscious parent, you look within yourself and work through the programming from your childhood.
As you do so, you begin to shift your thinking. You learn to let go of your childhood’s limiting beliefs and judgments so you don’t place them on your child. Instead, you allow your children the space to grow and be their unique selves without trying to “fix” them or raise a “mini-me” version of yourself.
In our family, we also combine this parenting approach with connected parenting. This mix of parenting styles fosters connection with your child before correction and uses empathy, understanding, and compassion as a foundation when we discipline. There are many other versions of this type of parenting — collaborative parenting, gentle parenting, positive parenting, relationship-based parenting, to name a few.
The point is, the conscious, connected parenting approach is the opposite of the fear-based, punitive parenting many of us are familiar with from our childhood and the currently accepted norm. That doesn’t mean that I have this parenting gig down. I still have rough days and moments like every parent. It’s easy to get sucked into feeling depressed or a failure because you yelled at your child or didn’t handle a situation as well as you would have liked.
It’s OK for your children to see all the parts of you. It helps them see you’re human, and it’s OK to be mad, sad, glad and all of the emotions in between. If you’ve been angry, stressed, frustrated and tense and noticed similar behavior in your children, it’s never too late to start modeling calm, positive action. The chance to practice is in the next moment, and the next, and the next … well, you get the picture.