Say Less, Model More: How To Be A Better Parent

Why you confuse your kids when you don't do as you say.

Parenting Styles: Say Less, Model More: How to Be a Better Parent

When I was young, my mother sent me to church every Sunday, admonishing me to be on time so I wouldn't disturb the service. She rarely went to church, and the few times she did, she was always late. I never asked her why it was so important for me to go to church when it wasn't important for either of my parents. Italian children of my generation didn't ask why. We did what we were told.

Truth is, I didn't mind going to church. I always walked with my grandmother and enjoyed our special time together, though I was confused about the double standard. When parents preach one thing and do another, they confuse their kids. The chance you take when you give contradictory messages is that your kids will do the opposite of what you tell them, because that is what you are modeling. They will try to sort out what they were told and what they witnessed, becoming conflicted and risking their personal identity.


Confused about whether or not you say one thing but do another? Just ask yourself the following question: "Am I consistent in what I want my children to do and who I want them to be? Do I model the expectations I place on their shoulders?" If you need improvement but don't know where to start, read the following tips that will help you say less and model more. 

1. Teach Your Children How To Take Care Of Themselves
By her own admission, my client June lives a mediocre life. If you asked her to rate her life, she would give you a 5 out of 10. She doesn't have many interests, never really cared about upgrading her education, and even though she isn't unhappy, she's also not really happy about where she is in life. She decided to get some coaching to find the spark she had never experienced.


June wonders why her daughter doesn't have more interests, travel more or have a bigger social life. For June, her daughter's lack of passion is a thorn — it makes her sad. After a few months of coaching, June realized that hiring a coach was one of the most powerful lessons she could model for her daughter. She was telling her daughter that she had regrets and was taking steps toward a better life. June started making changes in her life: taking courses, going to movies, generally stretching her comfort zone. Most importantly, she backed off from pushing her own expectations onto her daughter and instead began modeling the life she wanted for her daughter.

I'm sure you know the moral of the story. So it's time to ask yourself a powerful question from the Bible, reminiscent of my church-going days: "Why do you see the speck in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?"(Matthew) Where are you being inconsistent in the demands you make on your kids? In which areas of life do you think they are blind, yet you do not see the log stuck in your own eye? Think about it and make the necessary changes to improve yourself. 

2, Model Your Principles
At the mature age of 43, I decided to go to university and get a degree in creative writing. I was at a crossroad in my life and chose to do what I had resisted the most — swallow the frog and get a formal university education. I felt stuck. Even though I had had an academic education and held a high school diploma in ancient Greek and Latin, I had refused to get a university degree. Why? To defy my parents. At midlife I realized that this defiance wasn't authentic. It was a reaction to my parents' confusing messages.

My parents had always told me that if I wanted to be successful, I had to go to university. Neither of them had gone, and my father was a very successful entrepreneur. So, even though I was a good student and would have enjoyed university, I refused to go. It wasn't until my forties that it dawned on me that to continue to fight against what my parents had told me decades ago and model them instead wasn't serving me at all. Attending university as a mature student, in a language I had learned as an adult, and with a young son at home, was a challenge — one that taught me I could do anything and could model that belief to my son. Yes, you can tell your children that they can do anything, that they can overcome any challenges, but if you don't show them with your actions, it's all words.


One day my son said to me, "Mom, you must be a very bad student because you're always studying." Well, we had a good conversation about it, and before long I proved to him that whatever you do, you get out what you put in. I was awarded a scholarship based on academic merit over the last three years. Though challenging, going to school later in life was one of the most rewarding times: I ended the power struggle with my parents, I pursued something I loved, and I modeled to my son true commitment to myself. My son was in the 10th grade when I graduated, and by that time he had become so committed to his future that I never had to nag him to study. And I was never upset about his marks. He was working at 100% of his capacity, just as I had done.

3. Avoid Contradictory Parenting
I have watched young adults become the victims of addiction because of their parents' contradictions. One was the son of an established professional with narcissistic tendencies, who gave his son so many conflicting messages and expectations that the boy turned to drugs and alcohol for consolation. Fortunately, he cleaned himself up through many rounds of rehab.

I met this boy when he was fourteen, and he was obnoxious and out of control. It was no wonder! While his parents expected good behavior and were strict with him, his narcissistic father modeled bullying, putting people down, and enjoying others' misery. His mother, not wanting to enrage her narcissistic husband, never stepped in.  

You may think this story is extreme. Look around. Notice how many confused young adults there are. Be fearless and ask yourself where in your own parenting your words and deeds contradict themselves. Assess where your children have the most difficulty and ask yourself how you may be contributing to their challenges. Keep reading...


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4. Decide If Your Behavior Causes Anxiety
Many adults have so much invested in making sure they don't do what their parents did that they become anxious when things don't work out. My client Megan suffers anxiety attacks when she is late. Her mother was always late, even while preaching that one must never be late. As a child, Megan interpreted her mother's lateness as meaning she wasn't good enough to be picked up on time. Now, being late is for her the worst trait a person can have. Even when circumstances make it impossible for her to be on time, her world crumbles. Together, Megan and I worked hard to establish her priorities not based on being the opposite of her mother. Though punctuality is still important to her, she is now more relaxed and understands that her history of always being on time speaks to her commitment. 

Where did your parents model a different message from the one they were telling you? How did you cope? How can you shift from a place of resistance to a place of learning that it's important to model what we say?

5. Be Intentional
In my many interactions with diverse people, I have noticed that intentional parents have well-adjusted children. When parents take the time to find out who they are and model their priorities, their children have an easier time finding their path in life. Parents who follow their own truth, living purposeful lives, give their children the freedom and respect to choose who they want to be. If you are kind and polite, you can correct your children and expect them to be like you. If the word "thank you" rarely passes your lips, then surrender to having rude children.


The way you model life to your children will determine the kind of life they have. Your marriage will be a model for their marriage. How you treat your partner, your colleagues, you dog will most likely be the way your children relate to others. You don't want your children struggling to sort out who they are because of you and the model they saw in you.

The best way to parent is to be true to yourself and your values. To know your values, you have to sort out who you are as an adult. Bless your parents for the lessons they preached or modeled. Accept those lessons — and be intentional.

Monica MagnettiProfessional Certified Life and Business Coach, Brand Consultant and proud YourTango Expert. Monica has designed free products for you so that you can lead an intentional life as both a parent and a professional. Don’t underestimate the power of clarity. Download Monica’s free MP3, Being in the Present: Achieve More Clarity, and read her free ebook, Ignite Your Fire, Brand Your Essence: A Collection of Fiery Wisdom on Business and Life.