Do As I Say, Not As I Do


How, given our shortcomings, do we teach our kids right from wrong so they’ll actually listen?

When was the last time you preached to your kids about abstaining from behaviors in which you personally engage?

None of us is completely innocent when it comes to the adage, “practice what you preach”, and I don’t believe our kids expect us to be. The question is how, given our own shortcomings, do we teach our kids right from wrong so that they’ll actually listen, and at the same time view us as humans worthy of respect? I’ve found the following steps effective in dealing with this dilemma:


  • Take a personal inventory of your character strengths and weaknesses: Admit to yourself your own personality flaws and less-than-admirable behaviors, e.g. hair-trigger temper outbursts, holding grudges, smoking cigarettes, or eating junk food regularly.
  • Decide which of these personal shortcomings you’ll address first, and put together a plan for how you’ll deal with it. Make the plan realistic so that you can actually achieve your goals. For example if you know you need to implement an exercise plan begin slowly, acknowledge to yourself each step you take toward this end, and steadily build up your exercise routine.
  • Stop speaking to your kids as if you’re perfect, and are addressing them from “on high”. Instead, be human with your children and convey that although you’re the parent, and deserve to be treated with respect, you’re also flawed, and continue to be a work-in-progress. This doesn’t mean baring your deepest, darkest secrets to your kids, but rather letting them know that you’re aware you have shortcomings, just like every other human being.
  • Apologize to your kids for times in the past when you haven’t practiced what you’ve preached. Vow, moving forward, to make your own behaviors conform to what you expect of them.
  • Share with them in an age-appropriate way what you’re personally working to change or improve; doing this reminds them that you are merely human.
  • In general, become less critical and judgmental of others, and demonstrate the principle of walking a mile in someone else’s shoes.
  • Forgive people who have unintentionally wronged you and let your kids know and / or observe you doing so.
  • Apologize to your children when you are wrong, and let them know that although doing so is hard, it is the right thing to do.

You are the parent and as long as you are paying the bills, you have the right to insist that your kids be respectful of you and follow your rules. That said, being a parent provides you the chance to consider your own character strengths and weaknesses on a daily basis. Rather than focusing on our kids’ shortcomings, why not take this opportunity to find the “mote in your own eye”, and work on becoming a better person alongside them. They will respect you for this, and will be much more likely to get with the program themselves!