Children & Discipline

Children do what we do, not what we say

Published: 20 Oct 2014
Children do what we do, not what we say

Oli was excited. He had just collected the junk mail from the letterbox and was browsing it with his sister, Isabella. They found something that Oli wanted to show his mum, and they began to argue.”I want to keep reading.”

“I want to show mum.”

Before anyone could intervene to help the two children (who were too young to have developed effective conflict resolution skills), Isabella – aged 3 – tore the brochure.

Oli was devastated. He sobbed.

Mum saw this as a teaching opportunity for Isabella. She retrieved Isabella’s Dora the Explorer colouring book and ripped one of the pages. As a look of horrified pain spread across Isabella’s face, mum then said,

“That’s how Oli feels when you tear something he wants to give to me.

This mum was not trying to be nasty. She was calm as she ‘taught’ the lesson to Isabella.

But what lesson did she really teach?

A little later that afternoon, the postman delivered the mail. Isabella collected it, brought it to her mother, and tore it up in front of her mum.

Leading by example

Have you ever noticed that our children copy what we do much more than they follow our words. When you’re out with friends have you watched their children to see how the characteristics, mannerisms, and ways of speaking have transferred from the parents to the children? They’re like little ‘mini-me’s’!

Some parents become upset that the their children don’t use their manners, or that they swear, shout, or speak rudely. Then they shout at their kids, call them names, and reprimand them for the way they speak. Or they swear when they’re stressed, pressured, or in pain.

Some parents are remarkably calm, gentle, and kind. They’re always smiling. Their children follow the same pattern and people marvel at what great kids they are.

Adults teach children in three important ways: the first is by example, the second is by example, and the third is by example.

Values and Guiding Principles

It might be interesting to reflect:

  • What are the attributes you want your children to develop?
  • What are the behaviours and attitudes you don’t want to see in your children?
  • When we become purposeful and pro-active in answering these questions about our values, we also begin to automatically align our behaviours with our those values.
  • Do you want the children to develop gratitude? Be grateful… and talk about what you’re grateful for. Explore the idea with your children.
  • Do you want your children to be independent thinkers? Don’t follow the crowd. Question things. And celebrate it when your children do the same, even when it is difficult because they are questioning you.
  • Do you want your children to love to read? Read lots. To yourself and to them.
  • Do you want your children to help others, or be kind, or speak softly, or play fair? Live those values and they’ll learn them.
  • Don’t worry that children never listen to you. Worry that they are always watching you. Our children usually become what we are, so it helps if we can be what we want them to be.


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