We all have a special distaste for text books, until we find out we are one; our kids read the text book of our lives every day.
I just recently became familiar with The 10 Greatest Gifts I Give My Children, and while the example my parents demonstrated when I was growing up probably included some of the 5 tools and probably rubbed off on me, I never really thought about them in my child-rearing efforts. After I read the book, I couldn’t stop thinking about how I spoke to my children and what messages were being sent to them by my tone, my word choice, my body language, and how I used questions.
I caught myself one time speaking out loud my reservations about giving money to homeless people on the street because they might go spend it on less than necessary items. Right after saying that, my brain voice asked me, “Is that the attitude you want your kids to have toward those less fortunate?” And I was further convicted when the next time we saw a homeless person on the side of the road, they blurted out what I had said the last time before I could say anything! I was ashamed and embarrassed about the example I had displayed.
I was determined to change their attitude and mine as well. There is a particular man we’ve seen on the street on the way into our local grocery store. He sits in a chair holding a sign, smiling at cars parked at the light exiting the store parking lot. One day, my 7-year-old daughter and I were driving into the parking lot when she saw him and said, “Can we give him something mommy?” I considered as quickly and carefully as possible how I could honor her generous heart and also teach her to be cautious with the monetary blessings God has given us.
So I replied, “If you want, you can pick out one drink and one snack for him at the store.” She was soon on a mission to find just the right snack and just the right drink. After much indecision in the snack aisle and asking if she could choose everything, she chose a bag of rainbow goldfish and a bottle of water. On the way out of the parking lot, I rolled down her window and she got to hand the man the snack and the water and inform him that she picked them out herself. He smiled at her and very graciously thanked her for the treat.
Quickly the light turned green and we had to move on, but as we were turning left, she said, “That was fun.” I asked, “Did you like giving him something?” to which she replied a firm yes. “Would you like to give him a bottle of water each time we see him?” “Ya, that’s a good idea.”
I realized that the caution I have as an experienced adult shouldn’t get in the way of teaching my children how to be generous and compassionate. Instead, it should make my modeling richer and more practical. This story definitely reminded me of something I’ve known in my head for a long time, but something that we never really understand in a deep way until you’re caught in the cross-hairs of your own pessimism by your children: they are always watching you and listening to your words and attitude. If you are doing it, they assume that is how they should live.
So be cautious. Don’t let unchecked words or body language escape your thought filter, because your kids will filter that example right into their own blueprint for living.