Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Being the example isn't so easy

There are some things that a child learns through a heart-to-heart conversation in which the parent
shares a life lesson with the child and the child hears and understands. There are other things that a child picks up just from watching and listening to people. Our daughter loves to try the things she sees. She is perfectly content to play on the kitchen floor with a stock pot and a wooden spoon, or her baby doll and a pretend bottle. She likes to brush her hair and her teeth, and to do laundry. Her favorite things to do are things she sees in real life. She watches us to learn what to do. As much as I love the way she talks now, I want her to learn to speak properly, so instead of mimicking her "baby talk," I give her the proper pronunciation of the words she is trying to say. It really makes me think about my day to day actions and just how hard it is to be a good example with certain things.

I think about my hopes for our daughter's behavior, particularly in the areas where I fall short. Here are a few thing that come to mind.

I am a bit of a picky eater, but I want our daughter to be more flexible than I am when it comes to food. On the other hand, I don't want to force her to eat something that she detests. I do want her to try new things and branch out from cheerios, bananas and prunes. The other day, I was trying to feed my daughter some pre-packaged pureed mixed vegetables that we had been given. Our daughter was spitting it out and turning her face away instead off eating it, but she did try tastes of it, over and over again. To show her how tasty it was, I turned the spoon and tried a bite myself. It was all I could do to keep it in my mouth, and I am certain my face showed it. I love vegetables, but her baby food was disgusting and didn't taste anything like peas, carrots, and spinach. I couldn't make her eat it. Content that she had at least tried it, I dumped the rest. The following week, we were invited to supper at our friends' house. They were having smelts for supper, which are tiny fish that you traditionally eat with bones intact. I was hesitant to try bite into a smelt, but in order to be a good example I had to at least try it. It took me a few minutes to work up the courage to bite into it, but when I did, it tasted like an extra-crunchy fish stick. After that first bite, I chose to remove the bones and enjoyed a few more smelts with my meal. I am glad a tasted them. I recently read a study that kids that smell or taste new foods are more likely to eat and enjoy them. It isn't rocket science that you need to try something new in order to know if you are going to like it or not, but following through isn't easy either.

If I want our daughter to feel comfortable talking to us, we need to listen to her when she talks and encourage open communication with her and each other. If I want her to be polite and wait until I am done talking instead of interrupting me, I need to be demonstrating that. When I hang out with my grandmother, mother, aunts, and sisters, we all talk over each other, laughing, interrupting, talking and listening to each other. In the proper context, I don't feel that this type of layered conversation is rude or disrespectful, but their are times when it would be extremely inappropriate. It can be overwhelming to someone who isn't accustomed to it. I have a distinct memory of staying with my aunt at her in-laws' house when I was a teenager. I noticed right away that they never interrupted me or each other and they truly listened and responded when I talked. Over and over again, I caught myself interrupting them and they would stop and listen to me. They were showing me respect and I was being rude, over and over again. During our stay, I learned to keep my mouth shut until there was a sufficient pause in the conversation. I didn't get to share every thought that popped into my head, but I was learning to show respect and to really listen and respond to what was being said. I want to be polite and respectful in conversation, and it takes practice. Now I am painfully aware when I interrupt someone.

I want her to be brave, but also sensitive. When I get hurt, I don't always know how badly I am hurt until a few seconds or minutes have passed, and I tend to yell out in pain, which really scares our sweet baby girl, and she immediately screams as well. I am trying really hard to control my reactions when I stub my toes or bump my head. When our daughter falls down, sometimes she is legitimately hurt, and sometimes she isn't. I have seen some parents who react to react to every little bump as if it were a life or death situation, and other parents who take the opposite extreme of never taking their children's pain seriously. I want to be somewhere in the middle. A wise friend once told me that she usually waits to see her child's reaction before she either ignore it or springs into action, because her children will often look to her for a reaction if they aren't hurt, to gauge what their own reaction should be. If they are hurt, they will cry out right away, regardless of what she does. Sometimes it is obvious that our daughter really is hurt, like this morning, when she tripped and bumped her mouth hard on her high chair, and her teeth cut her lip. Other times, it is harder to tell how hurt she is, so I wait for a reaction from her before I react.

I want her to be loving, so I need to show her loving behavior. It is easy to love people, and easy to show love, when things are good. When I am annoyed, it is more difficult to treat my family members and cats in a loving way, especially my husband (who I am absolutely crazy about, by the way). I try to be careful not to argue with him in front of her, but she is smart and I am sure she'd catch on. She will know what's going on even if it isn't in front of her. I want to show her healthy ways to disagree with someone without being unfair or unloving. I don't want her to yell, so I try very hard not to yell, regardless of whether she is with me or not. Similarly, I don't want to desensitize her to yelling. I want to save yelling for emergencies, like a child running in the road or a fire. If I yell frequently, she won't know or care if something is an emergency versus a regular event. By treating her and others gently and quietly, I have something to work up to if necessary.

Getting in the habit of being a better role model is hard work because consistency is important, but impossible. Being a good role model is far from easy because we aren't perfect people. I am far from perfect. I need to admit when I am wrong or have made a mistake and ask for forgiveness, modeling humility. If I lose my temper or overreact to something she does, I need to apologize to her and ask for her forgiveness, regardless of her age. There is no such thing as a perfect parent, but realizing that children often mimic behavior they see and become like their parents is motivation for me to sit with God and take another look at my life.

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