We’ve all heard it a million times – kids are like sponges. As the mother of a 15 month old, I am beginning to see a little copy catting here and there, and quite frankly, it’s a little intimidating. My inclination is to think that my general behavior is good (I can even omit cuss words around Rowdy, which is something that my 25-year-old self would be shocked by), but even if it’s just picking your nose or making a weird face, your kiddo might pick up on it. And although an individual parent’s behavior is almost certain to be copied by the little ones, the way a child’s parents treat each other will get just as much attention. I asked for some parent volunteers to answer a few questions on this topic. This is what they said.
While all of the parents agreed that the way co-parents treat each other most certainly has a great affect on the child, they differed in their explanations. The first thing mentioned by dad, Tim, was manners. “I try to treat people how I want Emory to treat people – with manners.” I must say that I can’t agree more. Everyone appreciates a kid with good manners. And although using titles like ‘ma’am’ and ‘sir’ often may be more common in the South, everyone everywhere recognizes ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ as well.
When I asked parents to describe how they, along with their partners, treat each other in front of the kiddos, they all agreed that they make an effort to avoid arguments and dramatics in front of them. Interestingly, they all also recognized that disagreements will occur in the kids’ presence, and that’s OK, as long as nothing gets out of hand. Rachel says, “We, of course, try not to argue in front of Peyton, but occasionally we will be having a discussion and I see Peyton trying to misbehave to get the attention back on him. He will tell us ‘stop talking so much’ or ‘everybody calm down’, which is exactly what he has heard us say before at some point or another.” Lindsay adds, “My husband and I do not shy away from hugging and kissing each other in front of our kids, and we say “I love you” to each other and to them often. That’s not to say we sit there and make-out! But, we do show affection and often give big “group hugs.” My husband and I also dance with each other and the kids when we’re happy and spend lots of time laughing with each other. There have been times that Jenna will walk in the room and call my husband and I “silly” because we are joking around with each other. I think it’s also important for our kids to see us argue. There are certain details that they don’t need to know about any specific situation, but I think it’s important for them to see that Mommy and Daddy are frustrated with each other, but that we can still talk through it and come to a solution. We want them to see that it’s OK to take a break from a situation that angers or upsets you, but that you have to work with each other to solve the problem.” Sarah explains, “Children are sponges and they learn by example. Mickey and I don’t argue or raise our voices in front of Cameron. Now I’m not saying we NEVER disagree in front of him because that is just not reality. However, it never escalates and we do not raise our voices. We dismiss it and talk about it later. We are affectionate with hugs and kisses and we have a family hug every single day.”
Sounds like these parents have got it together, doesn’t it? So, is it working? Here’s what they have to say about how their co-parenting behavior has affected their children. From Lindsay, “I think our behavior has started to affect Jenna in an outward way. She’s starting to understand that communication through an upsetting situation helps you to feel better sooner. I think she also is more willing to give hugs and kisses and tell us and her brother that she loves us even though her nature is to be a bit more reserved with her emotions. Evan, our 7-month-old, isn’t quite old enough for us to notice if our behavior is affecting him greatly, but I have to believe it is since babies are so keenly aware of moods and atmosphere. Ultimately, we want our kids to grow up in a house where everyone outwardly respects and loves each other and everyone is willing to put equal work into solving problems.” Sarah concludes, “Cameron is almost 6 and started kindergarten this year, so he is definitely old enough to be affected by what he sees and hears at home. He is kind, helpful, and affectionate to everyone he meets. He tells us he loves us twenty times a day which just melts my heart. He is respectful to adults because we make sure he knows the importance. I received a call from his teacher on the first day of school just to tell us that Mickey and I should be proud because he is a smart, kind, and well-mannered little guy. She told us he had taken a shy, reserved little boy, who had a rough morning, under his wing. (Cam is sooo not shy). This is what every Mommy can hope for. I don’t care if he ends up being Valedictorian or star of the football team. As long as he is kind to himself and others, we will consider our parenting a success!”
Just like Sarah, I too feel like teaching my son to be a kind person is one of the best things I can do as a parent. In fact, that thought process was the original inspiration for Kind Kiddo. As for my husband, Ryan and myself, we simply take our typical kind behavior towards each other a step further now that we’re parents. We don’t need to put on a show, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to practice our best behaviors in front of Rowdy. We have had disagreements in front of him, but we also put forth a conscious effort to stay calm. I’m extremely aware of how much co-parents’ treatment of each other truly can affect a child. I know that some parenting situations may be more complicated than others (divorce, for example), but one of the best gifts parents can give their children is a display of respect toward the other parent. It makes me feel so happy and fortunate that Rowdy has two parents that love him as well as love and respect each other. I say if you’re a co-parent, use it as a golden opportunity to teach your little one his first lessons in treating others kindly. In addition, he can later take the good example he saw at home and use it in his own relationships throughout his entire life. Parents have this beautiful opportunity to be a positive influence in their child’s life. It’s really quite amazing.
In closing, I absolutely must quote mother of two, Lindsay. “I think a great deal of a child’s self worth and knowledge about how to treat people comes from not only their personal interactions with their parents, but also in witnessing how the parents interact with each other. If we, as the parents, show each other respect and love, the child/children grow to understand that they are deserving of love and respect, and that it’s not only a nicety, but a necessity to treat people kindly.”
I’d like to send a Texas-sized THANK YOU to my parent volunteers for your input on this topic. I learned a lot. Your kiddos are pretty lucky to have such kind, intelligent and loving parents.