“ There are hundreds of ways to illustrate your values, to show your children by example the kind of adult you want them to become. What you want your children to learn is that we make choices about ethical behavior every single day. It is not something that happens self-consciously, or only under duress. To be fundamental to your children’s character, these choices must be integrated into their lives until such behavior seems ordinary and everyday.
Behavior that reflects good character must be found in the simple gestures, casual remarks, and almost unconscious acts of kindness or concern that reflect a fundamental ethical attitude toward family members, friends and strangers. For example:
You are a moral model every time you go out of your way to respond to the needs of others.
You are a moral model when you give up part of your weekend to visit a relative or friend who is sick or in a nursing home.
You are a moral model when you listen compassionately and without judgment to a neighbor who is dealing with a difficult life decision.
You are a moral model when, instead of grabbing a parking space that another driver has clearly been waiting for, you allow her to have it.
You are a moral model every time you show kindness to your children, your spouse, your partner, your colleagues and any one who works for you.
The key is to make such ethical behavior an everyday thing – something that is simply expected as part of the natural way you relate to others. This then becomes the primary model for your children to emulate, and they will begin searching for small ethical things they can do that will earn your approval and approbation.
The problem is that when is comes to raising children, we can’t get away with much. Children notice just about everything we do, even when we think they’re not paying attention. They know when your actions don’t measure up to your words – when we say one thing and do another. That is why “Do as I say, not as I do” has never been a compelling statement. It teaches children that it is okay to be hypocritical. If this is how they experience their parents, their primary source of moral authority, why should they expect anything different from the great wide world, or from their own friends for that matter.
Being a moral model is a full-time job. When we talk to our spouse or partner, when we talk on the phone, when we talk about or interact with family and friends, we must always be sure that we are living according to the values we want our children to respect and emulate. One way or another, modeling ethical behavior that reflects your fundamental character will pay off in your children’s behavior as well. For our children are constantly using us as the ultimate check on what is right and wrong, what is acceptable and unacceptable when it comes to how we treat our friends, family and each other.