What do we really teach our children?

Our method of solving problems with them teaches them to do the same with others. My golden rule is, “Do unto children as you want them to do unto others.”

December 23, 2014 21:39
3 minute read.
Beersheba’s Hagar bilingual school

Children at Beersheba’s Hagar bilingual school read together. (photo credit: HAGAR: JEWISH-ARAB EDUCATION FOR EQUALITY)


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William, a fourth grader from Montgomery, Alabama, sat in the principal’s office waiting for his mother.

He was there waiting for his mother to come to school to talk to him about a fight he had started earlier in the day. She walked over to her son and smacked him full force in the face. Then she put her hands on her hips and said, “Who taught you to hit?” I was too afraid to tell her that she was the one who taught her son that hitting solves problems.

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We teach our children a multitude of things throughout their upbringing including values, proper behaviors and attitudes and right from wrong. Sometimes we are successful, other times, not so much. However, one of the most powerful teaching methods we use, often without realizing it, is our own behavior. What children really learn is taught by what we do far more than what we say.

Watching my grandchildren grow, I’m always surprised at the number of games they play that involve roleplaying adults. When young, they generally love to wear their parent’s clothes. They pretend to be mothers, fathers, teachers, nurses, grandparents and other adults in their lives. I love watching Hallel, my three-year-old granddaughter, take my cane and hat and play Saba. If you want to have fun and be willing to take a risk, ask any of your children to imitate you.

You will be surprised at how they portray you so accurately. Children are always watching us. That’s how they learn to be adults.

The way we behave must match what we tell them if they are to believe and learn from us. We can’t say, “Don’t lie,” and then tell them to say we are not home when someone calls. We can’t keep a few extra shekels when a clerk makes an error and then tell our children to be honest. The range is wide of the things we tell our children not to do, and then do ourselves. The list includes listening to others, being sarcastic, yelling, displaying hatred for others, driving too fast, fibbing, eating in an unhealthy way or smoking.

Even more importantly is how we treat them when they misbehave.

Our method of solving problems with them teaches them to do the same with others. My golden rule is, “Do unto children as you want them to do unto others.”

If you spank, they will hit. The vast majority of people who spank were spanked themselves. Adrian Peterson, a famous and gifted football player, was arrested and suspended from football for hitting his four-year-old son with a slim tree branch called a “switch.” He told the judge, “I was hit with a switch and I turned out okay.” More likely is the love we show our children when we talk to them, read to them, listen to them, and play with them overcome the harm of spanking.

When we yell at them, ban them from the room, use sarcasm, hit them, humiliate them, scold them, disrespect them, don’t listen to their side of the story or attack their dignity, we are giving them the tools they will use with other children, other adults including teachers and us. An occasional expression of anger in an unhelpful way probably has little longterm effect. Continued use of hostile behavior has lasting effect.

The same is true when we show love, kindness, honesty and caring.

After all these years I’ve discovered I have become my mother.

The author is the director of the graduate program in behavior disorder at David Yellin College and the author of Discipline With Dignity and Meeting Students Where They Live.

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