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Setting an Example?

I was talking to a friend the other day about how our children pick up everything we say and do, from a very young age.

When S was very small, I was basically living off microwave meals and crisps, bringing her into the kitchen in her bouncy chair while I waited for the microwave to ping. Then one day I realised that my daughter may very well grow up believing food came from that little white box in the corner of the kitchen, and that wasn’t very healthy for her. So I started to eat salads and fresh food, with her sitting in the kitchen watching me chop vegetables instead.

My friend told me that the other day she walked into her 2-year-old’s bedroom to find her putting her dollies down for a nap, and using the exact same words and tone as her mother uses: “no dolly, it’s nap time now, stay in your bed, good girl…”

It’s made me think about the way I speak and act, and what S sees and hears on a daily basis: will I suddenly have a cringey moment when I hear my daughter repeat something I’ve said a million times within her hearing? I’m trying to not only refrain from swearing or saying nasty things, but also to just be more positive and pleasant in general. It’s hard work to begin with but I’m hoping longer term it will affect both of us for the better.

I know I made a whole post the other day about women not judging each other, but today while I was out shopping, I had a horrible moment watching a young woman with her children. She had a toddler in the pushchair who was crying and whining constantly, clearly unhappy about something. As I stood behind them in the queue, the woman’s mother told the crying child that he may be the age of a toddler, but he was behaving like a baby. Then his older sister came back from wandering about the shop, and stood next to the child, shouting, “Oh, shut up, you’re so annoying!” every few minutes. The mother joined in, telling the child off for making a noise, telling him to shut up and generally having a go. Now, I can understand that from time to time, if your child has been crying for a while for no discernible reason, you might get a bit frustrated and explode a little… but surely hearing one of your other children emulating you would cause you to catch yourself and feel a little embarrassed? And as for the grandmother, I couldn’t help but think this was where it had all been learned from. As I left the shop behind them, I could hear the mother and grandmother berating the little girl for something, telling her she was so bad and naughty and horrible and all the rest of it, she didn’t deserve to go to Shakeaway. I know that while S is very small and not able to do anything much that’s likely to irritate me, I’m not really in a position to judge how anyone else deals with their older child doing things that irritate them or are naughty; perhaps when S is older and discovers mischief I will lose my temper and call her names. I really hope I can work on my self-control before then though and ensure it doesn’t happen.

For me, I think there’s a massive difference between telling a child “you did a silly thing” and telling a child, “you’re stupid.” I get really angry when I hear people telling children they are stupid or bad, because I really believe in the idea of the self-fulfilling prophecy, that they will believe that they are inherently bad, and not able to achieve more. I used to get so angry at S’s father for the way he spoke to his children, the names he called them – but they did wind me up as well sometimes and I would explode and tell them to just shut up and leave the room for a minute. It breaks my heart to see any child who believes they are stupid or bad in some way, I want to grab their parents and shake them, shouting, “can’t you see what you’re doing?!”

I’m really not a big fan of the idea of a naughty step or time outs either; Super Nanny scares me with the way she encourages parents to treat their children. Perhaps that’s just me though.

For now, I intend to try my best to be positive as much as possible, certainly whenever my daughter can see/hear me, and not to call people names or swear. Feel free to pull me up on it if you catch me being mean!

Vicky is a mother, a blogger, a podcaster and a social media trainer. She writes about life as a single mother, parenting and lifestyle type things.

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