The Most Powerful Tool We Have

What is the most powerful tool we have to offer our kids when teaching that to do the right thing? Today’s article is taken from the book Who’s in Charge Anyway?

Mirror Images

It was a foggy morning and I was driving to work.

I came up to a pedestrian-controlled intersection. The light was in my favour as I turned right. Suddenly, a woman, with a four year-old child, ran across the street. In the intersection, against the light.  Against the pedestrian-controlled light, through the fog.

I was reminded of the time my son and daughter, nine and ten years old, both needed glasses. Their father and I wear glasses, so this was not a surprise.

After a visit to the optometrist we engaged in the task of choosing frames, an exciting time to be sure.

The children appeared before their father, proudly showing off their new looks. Later that evening he pointed out to me a fact that I had missed in the hurly-burly of shopping. Each child had chosen frames almost identical to that of their same sex parent.

Without being told, my children had observed and learned what types of frames are appropriate for males and females in our family.

What does this have to do with the jaywalker mother and daughter?  That child, nearly old enough to be out walking and crossing streets on her own, is learning. She is learning that it is okay to cross against a red light as long as you run.

Every school day at 3 p.m., many parents show up at schools to pick up their children. These parents are concerned about their children, and their safety. They don’t want them walking home alone, crossing busy streets, so they come to the school to collect them.

In school the children are told to cross streets with the crossing guard, to cross at intersections, to look both ways before crossing the street. When parents arrive, they run across the street mid-block, they cross 10 yards up from the crossing guard, and they double-park, all too often in the crosswalk. They are all over the street. When they meet their children, the take them firmly by the hand, and jaywalk.

Who is the poor child to obey, parents who jaywalk with them, or teachers who insist that they cross with the crossing guard?

More importantly, what are the children learning?


It is not an uncommon sight, parents jaywalking with children.  They weave in and out of traffic with children in their arms, unaware, one hopes, that they are teaching their children how to cross the streets.

“Do as I say, not as I do”, is an expression used by parents to excuse lousy role modelling.

It didn’t work for our parents, and it won’t work for us.

Children learn by observing.

What our children are, how they act and react, their behaviour, the choices they make, are not random occurrences. Our children and their behaviour is a reflection of what they see happening around them and certainly a product of careful experimentation of what works and what doesn’t work.

Young children will imitate and learn easily. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that it’s up to you to live as you wish your children to live, and behave as you wish your children to behave.

Many adolescents are socially adept. They can converse comfortably with adults, handle themselves in a fancy restaurant, and greet guests in their homes. These teens understand the normal expectations in a variety of social situations. This is no accident. From a young age, they watched their parents and were exposed to social situations. They were expected to be gracious, to talk to guests of all ages. They were taught these skills; it isn’t just blind luck.

There are so many images that come to mind when I think about children imitating their parents. I see the father who lectures his child about watching too much television, as he settles into his easy chair for yet another full evening of sports or sitcoms. I see the mother who comes home after a rough day declaring, “I need a drink”, then tells her daughter to handle stress by exercising. I see parents smoking, drinking and driving, using cell phones while driving and swearing; all the while telling their children to “Do as I say, not as I do.”

When your children engage in behaviours or activities that bother you, ask yourself, “Where did she learn that?”

Look in the mirror and see, your child.


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One Response to The Most Powerful Tool We Have

  1. Michelle says:

    I love this article, it’s so true!
    It makes me think of all the things that I could be showing my kids and I feel a bit guilty about it : (

    Being a parent is hard because it’s hard to always be “in check” with all the busy life components that surround us.

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