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nebule's avatar

Is the way our children turn out, more to do with the subliminal messages we send them through our actions rather than what we say to them and tell them?

Asked by nebule (16449points) December 1st, 2009

This question is based on the fundamental premise that determinism is true and that all actions have an effect and consequently, specifically on our children.

After having got frustrated with Theo this morning for not being satisfied with one chocolate out of the advent calendar, I began thinking about why he was ‘ungrateful’ (as I called him silently in my mind) and why he got mad when he couldn’t have more and more to the point why I expect different behaviour from him and got angry like I did.

I came to the conclusion that it’s not unreasonable to expect him to learn to be grateful for sufficiency and that we can’t just go eating loads and loads of chocolate, and also that one chocolate a day will ensure he can look forward to a treat every day for the next month.

However, in all my wisdom I realised that I too often want to eat lots of chocolate and do (at weekends) munch my way through 3 or 4 (and the rest) chocolates at one sitting and that I too am not always grateful and cannot always see the beauty of sufficiency. So I don’t wholly hold and act out this belief. What I SAY really isn’t some of the time what I do.

Therefore (and rather a long winded way of saying it) I wondered how much of what we say has any affect at all on our children in comparison to what we do? Are we fighting a losing battle trying to lecture them? Should we always look at our own behaviour and practise a little more compassion and understanding when our little angels start to “kick off”?

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16 Answers

whatthefluther's avatar

Children are keen observers and quick learners and considering direct communication is not nearly as prevalent as the actions they observe and absorb, I believe they learn much more from those actions than our spoken words. Inconsistency between the two is probably very confusing and frustrating for a child who naturally tries to learn and be accepted by example and emulation. See ya….Gary/wtf

nisse's avatar

Yes. I think i was mainly taught by my parents using non verbal communication. I heard someone call it “moral osmosis”. Whenever my parents told me something i tended to do the exact opposite, but with moral osmosis i could learn at my own pace. I’m very grateful at my parents for not saying too much, but leading by example or more indirectly. I don’t have kids yet but i will definetly use moral osmosis on them once i get some.

PandoraBoxx's avatar

Sometimes parents parent by “do as I say, not as I do” and kids will notice, and call them on it every time. You have to both talk the talk, and walk the walk.

A book that changed how I talk to my children was a book my daughter’s kindergarten teacher read to them, The Important Book by Margaret Wise Brown. It looks at objects and teaches discernment. As in, this is an apple, An apple is red and shiny. When you bite into an apple, it crunches. The important thing about an apple is that it’s good to eat. Applying that to the Advent calendar, Theo needs to know that the purpose of the Advent calendar is to count the days down to Christmas. It is not a candy bar. The candy is a treat to mark the waiting. It is natural to want to eat more candy from the Advent calendar, but it will not make Christmas come any sooner, because the important thing about an Advent calendar is that it helps you wait for Christmas.

My daughter’s teacher used the book with them to help with their writing skills, to help them learn what to describe in a sentence, but it had other uses.

I found a really good parenting book to be MegaSkills by Dorothy Rich. It helped me learn how to parent effectively, and how to teach character to children.

Shegrin's avatar

I have a lot of experience with this topic. My son (now 14) went through the same stages as a younger dude, before he was able to comprehend complex emotions like gratitude. Not to say Theo can’t comprehend (don’t know how old he is), but even super-smart kiddos don’t do that until around age 9 OR 10.
Watch how much you inform him about such things, too. I’ve had to go back and correct his thinking because he misconstrued my meaning.
Honesty is best, and my rule of thumb is, “If they ask, they’re ready to know.”
Seriously, though, Do and say what you want him to do and say as an adult. Little pitchers have big ears.And you’re not just raising a son. You’re raising someone’s future husband/boyfriend.

aprilsimnel's avatar

Exactly. Children as young as Theo truly cannot grasp the high-level concepts of gratitude, cooperation, discipline. Their brains are not developed enough for that. They do learn them eventually through a combination of increase in cognitive ability as they grow older and your example. It’s like drops of water on a rock. The lesson gets through, but only through thousands of repetitions of them observing your example, you literally showing them what to do and their own attempts.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

If, as a parent, one realizes that what you say and how you act matters simultaneously, then one doesn’t run into the contradiction you mention…my kids keep me honest…fairness is a cornerstone…if I teach them not to hit or hurt another, then there is NO spanking my children…and so forth and so on

marinelife's avatar

I am not convinced that the influence of observed actions and attitudes is more than that od what you way, but it definitely does have an influence.

It is important that there not be too much of a dichotomy between your professed beliefs and your actions.

Also, rather than getting angry, remember that in some ways your son is a blank slate. Setting limits is a large part of what parenting is about. The Advent Calendar seems like a good tradition for teaching anticipation being its own joy. Just expect that at his age, it will not be a lesson learned at one go.

Chatfe's avatar

I think it probably varies by the kids themselves, but in general I think that kids are pretty keen observers—whether they intend to learn that way or not. Also, I think that kids take some time to understand the difference between absolutes and judgments, for example in deciding what’s right or wrong. So… consider this when you’re raising your kids… I hope this helps.

ninjacolin's avatar

Yes, I think a mixed message is sent by acting one way and then counseling another especially for a young child who can’t distinguish properly between advice and observance.

When you tell them to do something, that’s advice. When they see you doing something that’s just an observance, but to them they take everything they see as advice. For example: “oooo, a glowing stove element! I want some!” followed by a hospital visit.

depending on how memorable the scene was, the image of mom eating and enjoying lots and lots of chocolate could well stick in the child’s mind. later in life, he may repeat that behavior in an attempt to achieve the happiness that he believed was being experienced by you.

i can tell you for fact that this happens. when i was growing up it was customary for us to have only 2 or 3 cookies at a time. I still remember being at friends’ house where i was offered more and i thought it was so strange. however, I kept to my ways for some time and it wasn’t until a year after living with my first roommate that i finally took up a new habit of eating.. almost an entire box of DARE cookies in a single sitting!

It only happened once or twice but it happened because i saw my roommate do it! and yea I was disgusted at first but months later, the memory stayed with me and i found myself emulating it as a way to celebrate something small every now and then.

anyway.. if it can happen in adult life, it can definitely happen to a child.

wundayatta's avatar

Teach by example. Monkey see, monkey do. Do as I say, not as I do.

Whenever I am around my kids, I watch what I do, because I do believe it matters much more what I do, than what I say. This is a harsh belief. For I do not want my children to grow up being negative, or thinking of suicide, or knowing depression. At the same time, I want them to be prepared in case they face these issues. I want them to know they have an increased likelihood of having to deal with depression because I am dealing with it.

I don’t want them to freak out, because it is manageable. But I want them to know the signs so they can get help much earlier in the process. And that’s just one thing.

I want to demonstrate how hard work helps you build something big with only a little bit of work each day. I want to demonstrate how to have fun, and how to dig your teeth into meaty issues. I want to demonstrate joy. I want to demonstrate responsibility. I want to demonstrate love.

Not all of these things go over well with the kids. Can you guess which one they dislike the most? Yup. Love. My daughter said that two years ago (when we were at our most estranged), we were much better than now, when we kiss and hug all the time. It embarrasses her something fierce.

Demonstrating joy and positivity are much more difficult for me. My daughter is often complaining about how negative I am. I find myself saying things—denigrating myself in front of the kids; knowing it is a bad example. No matter. My son is already like that. He is a wonderful musician, but utterly shy about performing in front of strangers. He is a popular friend and responsible person, but he feels like he has no friends. Is this from me? From my example? From my genes? Well, I believe I am doing as well as I can.

One thing he is proud about is his art. He has a portfolio that he carries with him everywhere, showing it to anyone who will take time to look. He seems to feel confident about that. Wouldn’t you know it? It’s something I simply can not do. I can only look on in amazement, and be genuinely proud of his skill and accomplishment. A lesson for me, I think. I model perfectionism in music, and he is shy about his unusual skill. I have nothing to say about art, and he just runs with it.

I think my daughter doesn’t remember how much trouble she was in at school when I was really sick. My mental state affected them strongly. Now she’s 13 and her friends are her most important models. Parents are to be embarrassed by. Yet she still jumps up on me (my God, how heavy she is!), and she still asks for my approval for every little thing. She is in that transitional age, but has not become sullen or uncommunicative, like I hear often happens. Or maybe that’s boys?

It is so hard to be on guard all the time; to model the things I want my children to have, and to stay away from the ones I don’t want to pass on. Half the time—no, more—I am not conscious of what I am modeling. I complain about my pills. I take over the TV. I disappear to the computer (which is what my daughter does all the time, now).

Sometimes, like with table manners, we’ll try to tell them what to do. But we end up harping, and then we end up ordering our kids around, and I don’t think those are good things. I want to be respectful, and ask them to behave politely, and tell them the reasons why. I don’t want to fight them.

But the fighting is a habit I learned long ago, when I was growing up, and my parents were trying to whip me into shape. They still don’t let me forget how I was then. I don’t want them to run the same trip on my son, and I don’t want to run that trip, either, but it’s hard to break a habit like that. The words come tumbling out of my mouth before I even know what I’m saying.

So…. what was the question? ;-) Oh.

I guess I try my hardest to walk the walk, not merely talk the talk. Since I want them to question me, I have to take their questions seriously, and I do, and sometimes I change what I do because of their reasons.

It’s all based on that principle that actions speak louder than words. Sure, I fuck it up all the time. But it can’t be that bad. We’re not the only ones who think we have some pretty talented, polite, caring and considerate children. Although, many’s the time that I don’t think that—this is for public consumption, of course! ;-)

dogkittycat's avatar

I must say that the old pharse “actions speak louder than words” definatley applies.My parents cuss upon occasion and so do I, they used to correct me but it’s useless now. Parents that don’t follow their own rules are only setting themselves up for trouble once the kid gets wise. They’ll ask if you do this then why can’t I ? Then you’re up the creek without a paddle. Don’t “talk the talk” if you can’t“walk the walk”. Or at least appear to for their sake.

Pazza's avatar

We are a product of our parents, our piers, and our personality.
Children learn by example.
Children have to learn empathy.

60 to 70 percent of all communication is visual/body language, so if you think about it, a new born child up untill the age of about 2 only knows body language.

I got a 13 year old, a 5 year old, a 3 year old, and a 1 year old, an boy, do I FEEL old!

RedPowerLady's avatar

Absolutely. Children learn more through behavior than through listening to words. Traditional societies relied heavily on this method of teaching children. More ‘modern’ or ‘advanced’ societies have relied perhaps too heavily on reading, writing, and listening vs. actual experience. The old adage “do as I say not as I do” is a butt load of crock (excuse the expression) when it comes to raising children or in fact teaching anyone anything.

NaturalMineralWater's avatar

Do as I say and not as I do was never a realistic strategy. Children see the love between their parents (especially when we forget to lock the door) and the healthy interactions they have as well as the bad. There are all kinds of variables that contribute to the growth of a child. Teachers, friends, television, video games, their genetics and personality, and even what they look like. It all plays a part. But the actions of parents probably play the biggest role, imho.

Cruiser's avatar

I say words only in that reflecting on my own youth, I remember most vividly the words good and bad my parents said to me but at the same time it was how they said them that helps those moments stand out. So in that sense it may be both words and actions since it would almost be impossible to have one with out the other.

Inspired_2write's avatar

Action speaks louder than words.
One may say how to act, but the children follow wahat you do.
“Do as I say not as I do”?

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