I know one of the best ways to teach young kids anything is by example. And honestly, I wish I’d done it more as a young parent.
When parents demonstrate good behavior with their kids, there’s a double dip of benefits: our own actions are improved because those kids are looking to us to set an example. Once we set that positive example, it’s not long before our kids just naturally follow.
Here’s a great example . . . of leading by example!
This past summer I witnessed something so perfect I just have to share it with you. If I could have scripted this teaching moment between a dad and his sons, I couldn’t have written it better.
I attended a surprise birthday party for one of my friends. It was a “Girls Night Out” event but a couple of the dads were there to help with tables, chairs, and the heavy lifting stuff.
I’ve known one of the dads since he was a little kid and even as a little kid, he had a personality larger than life. For as long as I can remember, he was never without a mischievous grin; always thrusting out his hand to offer a firm and friendly handshake. As a little kid he always, always greeted me with, “Hello, Mrs. Johnson.” And it’s only recently that I’ve convinced his 45-year-old self that it’s actually okay to call me Linda.
As a little kid, he was appropriate and nice…and according to his mother, “A handful at times.” (Weren’t we all?)
He married a lovely woman and together they’re raising 5 beautiful children. In these children, I see the same outgoing personalities and charm and mischief as their parents. So when all of them were together at the birthday party, I observed a dad and mom demonstrate one of the best parenting tips I can share.
Three little words.
Lead by example.
- Be the example of the person you’d like your kids to become.
- Take care of yourself.
- Always work to improve your marriage.
- Keep yourself healthy.
- Keep your mind engaged.
- Keep your friends close.
- Show your kids what you value by demonstrating it firsthand.
Lead by example.
I watched as their five-year-old son was introduced to people. He extended his small hand for a tentative handshake and then his dad was like a cheerleader as he told him, “Way to go! That’s the way!” and this little guy grinned. “Nice firm handshake like we talked about. Yes! And look them in the eye too! That’s it!” And this little boy’s grin grew even larger. Then the adults all smiled back, offering more encouragement. The little guy’s grin nearly split his face as he realized shaking hands firmly and looking someone in the eye was really no big deal. After all, look how good he was at it.
The little boy disappeared with his brothers and in about an hour it was time for them to leave.
Dad said, “Are you ready to go?”
“Yup,” they nodded in unison. “Let’s go.”
And dad said, “ Ok we can go but first we have to thank the host and hostess. And lucky for you, they’re right here.”
Simply Show the Way
Three brothers exchanged looks and I could tell what was going on in their heads. The hosts were talking with other adults and those boys knew better than to interrupt. But they also knew they had to get in their thanks.
Dad again said, “All you have to do is give one of them a little tap on their arm. Then say ‘Excuse me, we have to leave but I wanted to thank you before we go.'”
“Go on. It’s ok.”
Three brothers stood with their hands in their pockets nervously shifting their weight from one foot to the other. They looked at each other with uncertain grins on their faces, daring one or the other to go first and no one wanted to take the dare.
Dad waited a few seconds and then made a brilliant move.
He led by example.
He tapped the hostess on the arm, excused himself for interrupting, explained they were leaving, and each one of his sons followed suit. Everyone shook hands, expressed their thanks and it was done.
There wasn’t a lecture. The dad didn’t create a scene or make the boys do something they weren’t quite sure how to do. There were no harsh words. No one cried or was embarrassed. No one left angry.
Three brothers and their dad exited the party laughing and high fiving. Three brothers walked down the driveway with a little more confidence than when they arrived. Three brothers learned exactly how you could politely interrupt an adult conversation, express appropriate thanks, and leave graciously.
All because dad took the lead and set the example.
I recently read this quote from an unknown author, “We talk so much about leaving a better planet to our kids that we forget about leaving better kids to this planet.”
Sometimes I think parents are overly concerned with test scores and sports camps. Music lessons and tutors. They’re focused on raising super achievers and valedictorians and getting their kids into the best schools.
I was probably guilty of the same when I was a young parent. But looking back, I realize maybe the best thing I did as a parent wasn’t when I pushed so hard, but rather when I relaxed and tried to lead by example.
I wish I’d done it more.
How about you? Did you learn to lead by example from your parents? Or did you figure it out on your own? “Do as I say. Not as I do,” is the way many of us were brought up by our moms and dads who were probably told the same thing by their parents.
There’s a better way. Be the person you want your kids to become . . . honest, trustworthy, kind, hard working . . . and there’s a good chance your kids will follow suit.
Lead by example!