Parents: walk that talk

2011-05-19 00:00

ONLY after we had our children did I realise how true the statement “actions speak louder than words”, was. This was clearly demonstrated for us when our six-month-old kept biting his lip and his little tooth pierced the skin so badly that it was always swollen and sore. We couldn’t figure out why he did this or how to stop it. One day as I looked in the rear-view mirror, I noticed myself biting my lower lip. I immediately put a stop to this bad habit I had formed and within days our baby had stopped too. I need not repeat that our children are constantly observing and copying our every action.

Children have the uncanny ability to see right through situations to the heart and truth of the matter. Our little cover-ups and stories may last them through the toddler years, but pretty soon they begin to notice adults who don’t walk their talk. This realisation results in a very sad situation in that the children begin to lose respect not only for that adult but adults in general and they no longer trust adults’ word as truth. The result being that we see a culture develop whereby children turn to each other for advice and comfort, and the untrustworthy adults are left out of the picture. Children love clear boundaries and justice, and they are very confused by double standards. We have all made these sorts of mistakes and thankfully children are also very forgiving and will often offer us a second chance. Remembering that trust takes time to build, be patient and consistent, and although they will test you again and again to see that you are living your talk you’ll begin to rebuild many a broken relationship by keeping your word.

The ability to walk our talk stretches into our parenting too. Whenever we threaten, but never follow through, we lose a bit of our child’s trust in our word. Soon they no longer see the parent as an authority and can even begin to view the parent as the weaker party. The simple truth here is only threaten what you know you will carry through on. Telling your fighting children that you’ll leave them on the side of the road is an empty threat that they can see right through. However, the threat of bath and bed with supper in their room and no TV carries far more weight — if they know you’ll carry this out.

Children are watching and judging adults all the time, so we need not only to set a high standard with manners at dinner times and the vocabulary we choose to use, but we need to be aware or the programmes we are watching, the company we keep and the way we treat our spouses. We can’t expect our children to be readers if we don’t read or to not shout at each other or us if we constantly shouting at them. Every action is being soaked up all the time.

It’s a hard game to constantly play at being something that we are not, so instead of simply instructing our children on how to behave, care, love, honour and respect others and the world around them, let us raise the bar and become all that we want our children to be, thereby modelling the type of person we wish them to grow up to be.

“Remember, people will judge you by your actions, not your intentions.” (Author unknown.)

• Joanne Madgwick is a parenting and educational consultant. Find out more about her at

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