By Rae Mok
When someone says “oh, your child looks like you”, you hope your child inherited your best features. But when someone says “oh, your child is doing this just like you”, you hope your child is not misbehaving in any way!
When children are brought into this world, they are like blank canvases, waiting for beautiful pictures to be painted. However, they are also like giant sponges, absorbing whatever they see or hear – good or bad. They cannot tell good from bad, so as parents, it is your duty to show them, and the best way is to behave in the same way you want them to, as they are watching and learning from you.
You cannot control what your child picks up from other people, or from media exposure. They take the cue from you as they spend most time with you, and therefore you are their best teacher (or worst, for that matter!). Your actions, habits, body language and speech, are picked up, absorbed, and will be adopted by them. Just like in the movie “Meet the Fockers”, one bad word from an adult said once, became the first word the baby uttered!
Are you guilty of doing these?
• crossing the road at the red light;
• digging your nose when you think no one is watching (or you don’t even care if anyone is watching!);
• not washing your hands after visiting the toilet or before eating;
• using your sleeves or shirt tail to clean your face/mouth;
• not giving your seat to someone who needs it more;
• behaving rudely to service staff;
• not greeting your parents or other elderly people;
These are just some examples. As parents, before you start to panic that you cannot “undo” your child’s bad habits, you should do a “bad habits check-list” on each other, and work out corrective actions to eliminate or at the very least minimise the bad habits being performed in front of your child.
Joyce Foo, a piano teacher, and Poh Leong Berg, a civil servant, have had to readjust their habits and set up their [parenting guideline] when their two children, Beatrice, 8, and Jayden, 4 came along.
1. What are your principles when it comes to setting a good example for your kids?
Leong Berg (LB): Our religion’s governing principles play an important part, for example: respecting parents/elders, to love others and oneself, honesty and integrity, are of primary importance to our family.
Joyce (J): Be a living example of how you want your child to live. Of course I am not saying I am perfect, it is a learning experience for me too. But it goes to show that mummy is learning and so will you.
2. What are some of the ways you set an example for your kids?
LB: Greeting them and making sure they respond to me as well. Bringing my own plate to the kitchen sink and getting them to bring theirs too. Making an effort to say "thank you”, “please" more often even for small matters. Putting dirty laundry inside the laundry basket.
J: Making sure I pay attention and make eye contact with them when they are conversing with me. I would require the same from them so it is only fair I do the same.
3. Are there any instances when you have to change your normal self so as not to mislead your kids?
LB: Being more selective with television programmes
J: No white lies, no cover-ups.
4. Did you get any references from books/websites/talks etc?
LB & J: Bible, attending parenting workshops and seminars, books such as Rules on Parenting by Templar.
5. What are the things to look out for when your kids are at their different age groups? Eg: baby – 1 year old, 3-6 years, 7 years onwards (after they attend school)
LB: 7 year onwards – language, behaviour, as they are socialising with kids from all walks of life. Getting to know the friends they are close to, for example getting to know more about their friends by asking the child to tell me more about who the friends are, what they get up to during recess, what the friends are like in terms of their behaviour, then at least we can more or less monitor the company they are mixing with.
3 - 6 years – what the kid picks up from the older sibling (if there is one) and also his circle of friends.
J: 3 – 6 years - looking out for the hand gestures, facial expressions, or actions when he is upset, angry or frustrated. For example, Jayden, my son, will sometimes make a face when he doesn't get his way. I will correct him and tell him that it is rude to make faces. If these matters are not corrected at this age, it will be difficult at a later stage.
6. Are there any other habits that your kids have picked up that you wished they had not?
LB: Biting fingernails.
J: Singlish, haha! Playing too much electronic games! To be honest, compared to many others they probably aren't playing that much but when they see kids at the restaurant/cafe/food court eating and playing at the same time, they too would want to follow suit. However, they do know that I will only allow them to play when they are done with their meal. At home, they will need to ask for permission and only after completing what is required of them.
7. Are there any other areas that you would like to improve on so as to set a better example for your kids?
LB: Exercising regularly, not only to improve my own health but more to involve and bond with them by making it a regular family affair.
J: To exercise more control over my temper as I tend to over-react over matters. Not to raise my voice too much when disciplining them.
As parents, setting a good example is a huge responsibility to take on but it is a fact that children learn more from what they see and hear. If they see and hear the wrong things, these ‘wrong things’ go into the system and remain as things that are acceptable when they are not.
Joyce and her family.