Five Things We Teach Our Kids When We Don’t Know They’re Watching

The other day it finally rained in our parched little town.  We’re in the middle of a drought, and the torrential rainfall was such a welcome and strange sight.  It rained so much in such a short time that the streets began flooding, which, believe me, no one minded at all.  After so many long months with very little rain, it was nice to see the ditches and roadways overflowing with rushing water.  When Adelade saw the water filling the roadways, she commented:  Daddy said that Disney World has drainage problems.  What??  Well, we went to Disney World when Adelade was five years old.  She’s nine now, but she remembered walking the streets of Disney hand in hand with her Daddy after an afternoon rain.  While they walked, he told her–you guessed it–that Disney World has drainage problems.

Kids have minds like gloriously uncluttered steel traps.  If she remembers some completely inconsequential thing that her daddy told her four years ago, before she even started kindergarten, how much more does she remember about the important stuff she’s seen and heard?

As adults we often tend to believe that kids aren’t paying attention.  But, we teach them so many things when we don’t even realize that they’re tuned in.  And, for the record, kids are always tuned in, even when they seem mesmerized by the TV.  Here are five things we teach our kids when we don’t know they’re watching.

1.  We teach them how to treat others.  Our kids notice everything about our interactions with other people.  Even when they seem engrossed in all of the cool stuff near the checkout at the store, they are aware of how the adults around them are behaving.  If we are rude to a clerk, they see it.  If we speak harshly to our spouse, they take notice.  If we call our friend and say mean things about someone, they are watching.  They pay attention to our dealings with other adults because they are trying to figure out how grown ups act.  They see us as prime examples of how to be in social situations.  So, when we show them that people’s feelings don’t matter, we are training them to be bullies.  We are showing them that being rude and offended and harsh are our favorite ways to be.  And, most of all, we are teaching them that our faith has no bearing on our treatment of others.  Instead, we should live out this truth: Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Colossians 3:12 

2.  We teach them how to be husbands and wives.  Our kids know many married people.  But, only one couple is with them at all hours of the day and night.  Only one couple deals in stress, romance, prayer, sacrifice, compromise, disagreements, and fun right under their roof day in and day out.  As their parents, we are their number one source of information on what it’s like to be married.  And, they are watching how we deal with things.  Most children eventually leave their parents’ house determined to have a marriage either just like their parents’ or just the opposite of it.  Many an adult is still dealing with the repercussions of bad examples that persisted in their parents’ marriages.  And many are trying to break cycles that hurt their parents’ marriages and are now hurting theirs.  Christian marriages are designed to be a clear picture of the gospel.  How much gospel did we show our kids in our interactions with our spouses today?   What if this was what our kids learned by watching us be married:  Love suffers long, and is kind; love does not envy; love does not promote itself, is not puffed up, does not behave badly, seeks not her own, is not easily provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. 1Corinthians 13:4-8

3.  We teach them how we feel about them.  How often do we talk about our children while they are standing nearby?  How often do we apologize for them, tell embarrassing stories about them, laugh at them, all in the name of being “authentic” or trying to be entertaining?  How often do we complain about the tasks of parenthood, or act like we would be happier if they were someplace else?  How often do we tell others that our kids are getting on our nerves or imply that we would rather not deal with them at all?  This is a growing trend among moms and dads, especially with social media such a tempting and often hilarious outlet for complaining about our kids.  But, every once in awhile we should stop and imagine that someone we love dearly is saying such things about us.  What if we learned our husband posted a Facebook status like this: My wife has not. stopped. talking. since I got home.  Is it bedtime yet? #silenceisgolden  No husband in his right mind would ever post such a thing.  Yet, we seem to think that our children will not be bothered when we say such things about them.  I’m not saying parenting isn’t hard, but we can support each other in the trenches of parenting without making our children feel like annoyances.  We can gift our children with kind words:  Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.  Proverbs 16:24

4.  We teach them how to handle injustice.  Imagine your child was passed over for a part in a play at school that you feel he would be perfect for.  You know he had the lines memorized, that he basically embodied the essence of the character, and that there is no way that anyone trying out could do a better job than he did.  Quick, what would you do?  If your first thought was that you would march up to the drama teacher and give her a piece of your mind, or that you would speak with the school principal and try to get him the part anyway, then you need to take a breath.  We are so quick to rush in and try to fix all of life’s hiccups for our kids.  When we go over people’s heads, when we bargain and complain and act rudely when our kids have been “done wrong,” we are teaching them a terribly bad habit.  It would be better, on casting day, to pat your son on the back, commend him for doing the best job that he could do, and encourage him to try again next time.  Because, let’s all say it together:  Life’s not fair.  And, the sooner our kids realize that disappointments will come, that things don’t always go their way, the better off they will be.  Rushing in to try and force good fortune for our kids leads to feelings of entitlement in our children, and that is one of the worst attitudes to get over once it has a hold on you.  Our kids will fail sometimes.  People will miss their greatness sometimes.  But, Jesus’ greatness was missed, too.  And the injustice He suffered was like no other.  We can teach our kids how to deal with disappointments humbly and graciously.  In fact, the Bible says that a little injustice can be good for us: Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. James1:2-4

5.  We teach them how to be a Christian.  Our faith matters to our kids.  The way we live it out, and whether it makes a difference in the way we act or the way we view things or the way we are behind closed doors.  We are often guilty of saying one thing and doing another.  But, our kids see the inconsistencies.  They wonder how a movie that is too bad for them could be good for us. They consider how much compassion and grace we have, how much our faith colors our willingness to apologize.  They are watching.  Are we giving them a clear picture of what Christianity is?  Are we building a faith that gets stronger with each passing year?  Are we teaching them to pray and to make the Bible the ultimate authority of their lives?  These are hard things to live out.  But, trying to be more like Christ has many benefits.  One is that we become more like Christ.  The other is that our kids see more of Christ every single day of their lives.  It’s a win-win situation, even if we do have to do some painful soul-searching.  Jesus said let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:16  Maybe an even higher and more difficult calling is to shine our light before our kids, through the good and the bad, the mundane and the crazy.  They are watching. And they are worth shining for.

Disney World (with its drainage problems)  recently put out a new commercial, and through the whole thing the dad is obviously trying to make memories with his preteen daughter.  But, every time he looks at her she seems engrossed in texting on her phone.  Then finally, at the end, she texts her dad this message:  Best. Vacation. Ever.  with a picture of the two of them in front of Cinderella’s castle.  It’s a great reminder that kids are very much present in the moment, even when they seem to be distracted.  Every moment matters.  If we seek God and shine His light in our families, our kids will be learning all of the most important lessons.  Even when they are staring at the TV.  Shine on!

Comments

  1. Malk says

    yes, so very true… I am often surprised at what they pick up and remember… my 6yo still brings up things from when she was 3yo! Sometimes, if I want to talk about them with others, I try to use a codename (e.g. “my second born” as my 4yo wouldn’t understand what that means :) but wonder if they can still understand… but lots of food for thought in your post… and love the scriptures you related too.

    • says

      It’s crazy, isn’t it, Malk? It’s a little scary, too! I pray they’ll remember what makes them better! Thanks so much for your comment!

  2. says

    I work in a private school with the preschoolers. I’m amazed at how much they pick up and mimic. I was getting a bit frustrated with my after school class and I guess I said “Knock it off” a few times. Next thing I heard was the children saying “knock it off” to each other. Good lesson for me! :)

    • says

      Ha ha, Debbie! I’ve had a few experiences like that! Some things just don’t sound nice coming out of a preschooler’s mouth! ha! Thanks so much for your comment!

  3. says

    Hi Melissa. Thank you for taking the time to write such a thoughtful post. There are a couple of things I am concerned about and wanted to share with you. It seems you have touched on what the ‘call’ of the gospel is, but not on the ‘comfort’ of the gospel. We need to remember that our kids watching us perform will never rescue them. They need a heart transformation that can only happen through the saving work of Christ. My kids will never see a perfect Mom. In fact, during seasons of my life they have seen a very bad Mom who hasn’t loved her husband well, or even been very kind to them. But they HAVE seen a Mom who has repented, who has turned to Christ for forgiveness and trusts that he died the death she deserved to die and lived the perfect life she never could. Being a light in the world, is not morality or performing up to a certain standard in front of our kids or others. Being lights of the world is being someone who repents quickly, and trusts what Jesus has done…and BECAUSE of that great love we have been shown…we want to serve him with our obedience in all the areas you listed above. The comfort of the gospel is that we realize we will never fully obey the call…but that we have Jesus…who did it all for us. I think we just need to be more careful because we can slip into such a works mentality as Christians. We are all prone to do that which is why we need each other so badly to point us back to the gospel. I know I need that daily myself.

    Years ago, I heard a story of a Mom of a famous Pastor/Evangelist. She was a sweet lady and It was said about her that she never yelled at her kids. I remember feeling so discouraged about myself because I knew I could never be that. After a few years though of understanding the gospel better…I realized my kids don’t need a Mom who doesn’t not yell…they need a Mom who runs to Jesus. A Mom who they can follow to the cross. It is a race to the cross, after all. That is where our only hope lies.

    Thank you for your time and understanding. I really appreciate it.

    In Christ,
    Kim

    • says

      Hi, Kim! Thanks so much for your comment. I can appreciate your concerns, and I agree with you that works alone do nothing to help our children grow spiritually. But, I think it is also easy sometimes to dismiss the fact that our actions do speak loudly to our children, and often our actions do reveal what is happening in our hearts. So I think it is good to have a balance of striving to react more like Christ in situations AND showing our children that when we do mess up, we can seek forgiveness and receive it.

      I would also say that, while I agree that my children need to see me as a mom who runs to the cross, they also really do need a mom who can control herself, with God’s help. So, I think not yelling is also a good goal. :-)

      Thanks again for reading and for your comment!

  4. says

    Came here via Challies.com. You are totally right – and it definitely does not end when the child grows into an adult. I live with my parents (after living on my own for quite a while), and I’m still picking up all sorts of things from them.

  5. Denise Stokell says

    True. They learn so much. My children are 18 & 15 yrs old. They know my husband and I like the back of their hand and they clearly copy us. In our family we try to keep a short account of sin and offences. We ask for and speak forgiveness when we are convicted of wrongdoing. A year ago my son said an encouraging thing.. that he loves how our family works through problems and traumas and that we are a strong unit because of it. I let out a sigh of relief. I can only put it down to living out God’s love, grace, humility and forgiveness. Jesus always brings me back to 1 Cor 13.

    • says

      What your son said IS very encouraging, Denise! Obviously you and your husband are doing well. :-) Thanks so much for reading and for your comment!

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