‘Why did you say ‘Shut up? ‘the four year old asked softly, as I got off the phone after a casual conversation with a friend, and an ‘Oh shuddd uppp chuckle’ before I hung up.
I was the one who taught her that saying ‘Shut up’ could hurt. Hmm.
So I really had no big answer to her question just then. (Our brains do tend to turn Paleolithic when kids ask certain questions, don’t they?). Well, being shown the error of my ways, I did the wise thing – I apologized, explaining that it’s a habit I have. Not a good one, but that’s no excuse. That I would watch myself, and not use it again. She seemed satisfied, and went back to her doll.
Funny how easily we say, ‘Don’t do this. Don’t do that’, how we want our kids to turn into perfect human specimens (of course, that is as improbable as finding the perfect maid). But strangely, they don’t learn from what we say, but learn mostly, from what we DO.
From the moment it’s born, your child instinctively looks to you. By default, you’re her role model. Her hero. Her Lara Croft or Salman Khan (insert name of choice), till adolescence happens.
So love it or not, thanks to a bunch of neurons in the brain, she will copy you. Your behaviour and your habits. It’s called Mirroring. And that will significantly shape her future behavior, her values, and finally her character.
Consider this: A three-year-old placed a plastic zebra out on the balcony of her doll house. When asked why she him outside, she said plainly, ‘Oh he’s having a smoke.’ She’d seen her own father do that.
So, if you curse, they’ll learn to curse. You don’t care of yourself, they won’t take care of themselves either. You don’t stand up for yourself. Later in life, they will allow people to walk over them. You little son will beat the doll, if he’s seen his father do something similar. You lie. They lie. Even the simple ones. ‘Tell them mummy’s not at home’, will set the pattern.
Researchers at Columbia University say that if a child is hit by their parents, or witness violence – verbal or physical - they were much more likely to see violence as a way of resolving problems as adults. Also, it creates the risk of a person becoming the victim of an abusive partner as an adult.
But wait, wait. Before you go on a guilt trip for all the things you didn’t do/ did (as we so easily do :), there is a happy side to this. (Of course there is one). Using that very same ‘Mirroring’ you can teach your child how to handle conflict, respond to stress or fear, or interact with others.
Yes, though it is a big responsibility, it is also a big fat Blessing.
You, have been given, or have chosen to take on the power, to mould a big part of her early life….to create a human being that is strong and secure. To give her the tools, and values to go out and face the world.
While it’s not exactly comfortable, we can begin to be honest with ourselves. Of course, we’re human, and we will pass on our best and worst behaviors to our children. But we can begin to question what we do… what we teach them by our words and actions, how we live our life.. whether it’s using a cuss word, being kind to ourselves, or choosing not to use a plastic bag. We can be careful to practice, more often, the good ones, and become conscious of the ones that will harm them.
And you’ll see it in their behavior, and yes, you’ll be proud of what you did.
Now, give yourself a pat on the back for all the times you’ve been there for them, and all the good you’ve taught your children. Then celebrate it. (Yes, they’ll learn to celebrate their good, and their achievements too. So simple, see?) Happy (belated) Teacher’s Day.