Clean your room! Say you’re sorry! Don’t spill that drink! Go back to sleep!
Some days parenting (or working with children) seems like a long stream of imperatives. So much of our language with children is spoken in imperatives with little to no room for discussion.
We want our kids to grow up to be independent, strong, full of courage and hope that their voices matter. At least, in theory. But how do we teach them that their voice matters, that they can speak up for themselves? How do we let them know that they’re not constantly at the bottom of a power dynamic where they aren’t allowed to speak?
We model it for them.
Think about it for a moment. Have you ever not wanted to clean? Have you ever had a hard time saying sorry? Have you ever accidentally spilled a drink or made a mess? Have you ever had a hard time going to sleep? I’m sure you answered yes to all of those.
I’m not advocating that we let kids make every decision on their own and live on candy and never sleep. Children obviously need direction and guidance. What I am advocating for is listening to our children while also creating healthy boundaries. Let them know that sometimes they have to do things they may not like or want to do, but that doesn’t mean they are voiceless. They can still have emotions, thoughts, and feelings.
Most of all, talk to them and listen. Is there a reason they can’t sleep? Don’t get angry over an accident that happens to everyone. Let them see you say you’re sorry first so they know that everyone needs forgiveness.
If we want kids who know how to forgive, we need to model that for them. If we want kids who know how to say sorry, we need to model that for them. If we want kids who know how to accept forgiveness, we need to model that for them. If we want kids who have healthy boundaries, we need to model that for them.
We need to say sorry more and not only expect our kids to do it. We need to listen more and dismiss less. We need to let them know that adults make mistakes, adults need breaks, adults have difficult days, and adults sometimes have a difficult time managing emotions.
Whether we are parents, grandparents, family members, teachers, neighbors, or church members, we should remember that we need to be the adult role models for our kids that we want them to become. Children learn by watching and mimicking. They learn through conversation. They have so much to learn, and we have so much good we can teach them through how we live our lives.