If your children are anything like mine, they are full of surprises. Some surprises are good, like when your teenage son tells you he loves you out of the blue. And some surprises are bad, like when your toddler smears the contents of her diaper across the bedroom wall. Although each child is different, there are five things that all children do without their parents even knowing it. Once you, as a parent, understand exactly what your children are doing while nobody's looking, it may change the very way you relate to your children.
- Your children are Observing. Whether you like it or not, your children are always watching you. This isn't said to scare you, it is a fact of everyday parental life. Your children have two eyes, and they are very much aware of what is happening in their world. They see everything, like how much time you spend on social media compared to how much time you spend with them. They see how you interact with your neighbors, they watch how you treat the cashier, they know how you react under pressure (even when driving) and they see every day how you respond to the situations you are placed in.
This may seem overwhelming, but it is a good thing. Now that you know this about your children, you can help them to see goodness. Let them observe you loving and serving others and treating all people with kindness and respect. Let them see you doing what is right and centering your life on goodness. Children learn by example. Be the example your children need you to be.
- Your children are Listening. I know you don't believe it, but your children really are exceptional listeners. They may not be listening to the things you want them to hear, and that's probably intentional on their part, but they are listening to everything else. They hear you when you tell your friend how frustrated you are with your spouse. They hear you when you tell a little white lie to get out of helping a neighbor. They hear you when you criticize your religious or political leaders. They hear you when you yell at the driver next to you, and they especially hear the words you choose to use in the tone you choose to use them. Our children live in our home, they dwell in our very private space and they hear everything we say.
- Your children are Internalizing. Because our children are constantly listening and observing, they are also constantly internalizing. They look to us as their teachers (even if they don't want to admit it) and what we say and do really matters to them. If we tell them they are stupid, they will believe it. If they hear us telling it to others, they will believe it even more. And if we treat them as if they are, they will inevitably be that person. That is what internalizing is, it is taking an idea or behavior and making it a part of your nature by either learning it or assimilating it subconsciously. Our children take the things we say, or do, seriously even though they may not understand why. Our actions and words help define and mold who they will become by the things they observe us saying and doing in our everyday life. What you do and say can change their world.
- Your children are Inferring. Our children are constantly drawing conclusions based on their observations. They have beautiful minds that love to reason, and our children are constantly using evidence and reason to come to conclusions about life. When trying to understand the world, our children very seldom rely on our statements alone. This means you can tell your children you love them, but if you do not show them with your actions, they will come to the conclusion you are not being honest with them. On the other hand, if you tell them you believe in them and then show them by supporting them in their efforts to become who they want to become, they will know that they can count on you. It's what you say and do together that makes the difference.
- Your children are Adapting. Our children are constantly adapting to their environment. That is wonderful news. This means that if you need to make a change in your relationship with your children, don't worry, your children will adapt and will be grateful for the new you. They will observe that you are trying to change, they will hear you as you explain your plan to be a better version of yourself for them, they will internalize how important they are to you, and they will infer that you are trying hard to be the best parent you can be. It may take some time, but change usually does. The great thing about kids is that they will be there every step of the way.
Children are smart. We have a wonderful opportunity to be a positive example for them to follow. What kind of example were you today? Remember, they are watching.