One of the most significant pieces of parenting advice I have been given over the years has been: tell them what you are thinking.   We know that children mimic us, they copy our actions, our tones, and sometimes even our words.  And yet, if we don’t tell them why we do those things, if we don’t tell them what the thought is that motivate our actions, they mindlessly imitate us.  Though this may look cute at 2 years of age, if they are still mindlessly imitating us at 10 we have some concerns.  We want our children to know why they do what they do – this is what will build a strong moral understanding and skill competency.

  • Why do you do the dishes after every meal?
  • Why do you speak kindly when playing board games?
  • Why do you water the plants every day?
  • Why do you wash hands after going to the toilet?
  • Why do you not play the piano when someone is watching TV?
  • Why do you fold the towels this way?

This becomes tricky though because we do these things automatically, we don’t think about it, it is a habit, which means we don’t even think there is anything to tell the kids. But behind our automatic behaviours is a belief system, some value that drives our decisions, or some experience that has taught us wisdom.  Our children don’t have either of these things – they don’t have an established value system, and they don’t have wisdom.  Which is why we must teach them.

I know being a model to our children is always stated as #1 in teaching values and skills to our kids – but if that is all we are to our children we will miss the mark, they won’t have what they need to succeed because they won’t know why.  We must tell them why, we must tell them what we are thinking – the moral truths, the practical wisdom, the problem solving, the thinking of consequences, the decision making and the questions that goes on in our mind as we go through life.

There are two challenges to this piece of advice:

1–We must know why we do things – this means we have to think for ourselves and truly understand our values and motivations

2–We must talk to our kids – we need to find a way to communicate our thinking to our kids – we need to learn to talk our way through our days.

It is when the why and the how work together that we have true learning; learning that will be solid throughout their life, and passed on to the next generation.   This takes time though.  Not only do we have to slow down enough to hear our reasonings in our own head, we have to slow down enough to communicate them to the kids, and then have enough time to make sure they understand.  No point in saying something if they don’t understand it!  Parenting with words takes time.  When we tell them what we are thinking we give them understanding as well as the ability to do the task themselves another time.

So next time you are doing something with your kids – talk.  Tell them what is going on in your head, what you are thinking about, tell them the processes you go through as you do whatever it is you are doing.  It may seem obvious, or even empty chatter, but as you put words to your thoughts you are giving good instruction to your kids.

 

Further Reading

Be a Thinking Parent: For us to be the best parents we can be we need to be a thinking parent. A parent who thinks about why, how and when.

10 Things we did as Intentional Parents: Being intentional means you know where you want to go and how you are going to get there.  These 10 things have shaped our family.

 

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