“Mum this is not the safety door, I cannot get out of the car” My 6 year old had learnt road safety the previous day in class and I had attempted to get her out of the rear drivers side door. I had always where possible got the kids out on the passenger side door but on this day we were running late and I had pulled up at the school gate too close to a safety rail to open the passenger door. I was flustered and ready to snap at her, irritated that she would scold me publicly. But she had a valid point. The school and I had told her that this was not safe and yet here I was breaking the rules. I knew that it was important in this moment not to dismiss her (as tempting as it was) because teaching our kids do as I say not as I do is not effective.
Ask any parent what they want for their child and it is inevitably to be happy, healthy and safe. Ask mothers during pregnancy and they will say they just want a healthy baby, ask parents of teens and they want them to stay safe as they stretch out into the world. We just want our kids to grow up and be good people. We see it as our responsibility in the early years to teach them everything, use you manners, be polite, don’t be too loud, have confidence. We tell them over and over. What we sometimes miss is that the best way to teach is to lead by example.
Our children are learning from us from they moment they are born, they are observing us, watching how we interact with the world and the people in our lives. This is the primary way they learn in the early years, not by what we say, but by what we do. Do we always get it right? Of course not, but that’s okay too as they learn that it is human to make mistakes and more importantly how to recover from them. When we lead by being the best we can be, they learn what it means to be polite, to have manners, how to be kind to others and believe in yourself.
Our children believe our actions so much more than our words, we can tell them over and over to use their manners but do we? Baloo once told me off when I told him to get out of the shower 3 times- without once asking him politely. Again easy to get frustrated and think of this as disrespect but he again had a point. I will not get him a drink when he shouts I am thirsty or even asks can you get me a drink without the please but I expected him to do as I said when I didn’t use those same manners. Research has been done on the way we learn and shown that modelling (observational learning or copying the behaviour of others) is a key element in how our kids learn.
Leading by example if hard, as an adult we know the short cuts, (like how check the road for traffic and get them safely from the car and to the path) but kids are always watching us. So when Princess Pea told me off for not being safe I thanked her for reminding me. I acknowledged her noticing that I didn’t do as I said. I suggested a little less sass next time and I showed her why I made that choice today. She still told on me to the teacher though!
When has your child called you out on not following your own rules?