Children learn in many ways, one of which is imitating.
What you do will be copied by your child.
If you observe your child playing with dolls or puppets, or any sort of imaginative play, this becomes very obvious. You may hear your exact words being repeated.
Sometimes, this is heartwarming, if you hear your child saying gently to a doll, “You’ll be OK. I’ll get you a Band-aid” or something that shows caring and empathy.
But on the other end of the spectrum, it’s unnerving to hear your child shouting something like: “I can’t stand her”, “where’d he learn to drive?” or any other heated comments that you may have made in your child’s hearing.
As parents we do our best to teach our children in many ways, but we may forget the learning that is always happening.
Children are very observant, and in the younger years, you are their primary role model. Since loud voices, upset tones or strong comments draw attention, these types of behaviours may be more imitated than quieter interactions.
If you yell, swear, show impatience or frustration, it is very likely that you will see and hear those interactions repeated back.
I was shopping recently and as I walked up and down the aisles looking for an item, I overheard a young child saying, “I’m a bad boy.”
I hadn’t heard a crash or anything, so it seemed that nothing too drastic had happened. As I came around the corner, I saw a boy of about three years old. Nothing appeared to be broken and he wasn’t grabbing things off the shelf.
The store clerk, a grandmotherly-looking woman, who was nearby said kindly, “oh no, I bet you are a good boy.” The little boy replied very seriously and firmly, “No, I’m not a good boy, I’m a bad boy.”
His mother or caregiver, laughed and said to the store clerk, “you should see him at home sometimes.”
I was sad to see this, and to hear how firmly this young child’s belief in himself is that he is “bad”. How many times, I wonder had he heard that said to him?
And he clearly believed it, since he had been told this by someone close to him. I wondered what difference it would make in that child’s life if he or she heard, “you are a smart boy, a good boy, a helpful boy, etc.”
If our children hear us say these types of positive things; hear us say please, thank you and excuse me, treat others with respect and kindness, then they will be more likely to act the same way.
Do we take a few extra minutes to hold a door open for an elderly person, or a mom maneuvering a stroller or shopping cart? Do we give up a seat on the bus to someone who needs it more? I am always impressed when I see a child doing these sorts of things-it brings a bit of brightness to my day and certainly to the person who is being helped.
Recently during the Christmas season, a child asked his parent why a Salvation Army person was standing collecting money at a mall.
The parent explained briefly that the money was so that people who didn’t have much, or a family could have some happy times at Christmas. The child dug into his jacket and pulled out some change and said, “I want to put all my money in there.”
I am sure that parent felt that overwhelming sensation of love and pride that is one of the best parts of being a parent.
Every interaction and situation is a learning opportunity for children. They will learn-what they learn is up to us.
Positive Parenting appears every week in LIFE. This week’s column was written by Laurie Lafortune, Understanding the Early Years co-ordinator with Family Services of Central Alberta. Lafortune can be reached by calling 403-343-6400 or www.fsca.ca.