3 Reasons Why Changing You is Better than Changing Your Children
I am reading a great book right now called “A Parent’s Leadership Field Manual” by Max Klein. One of his messages is an important one to embrace. He says “We can only lead our children toward their potential if we are on the way to reaching ours – not in terms of wealth, status, or education, but in terms of the quality of people we are and the strength of our character. That strength of character is simply the sum of our applied leadership traits.”
It is tempting to focus on changing the behaviors of our children because, as parents, we have been told our role is to shape and mold our children to be productive and responsible citizens of this world. This afternoon I was listening to my mom lecture me about Ian’s eating habits, insisting that he needs to eat healthier. Of course I know this, but I kept telling my mom that Ian won’t eat this, or that. At one point I even said “Mom, it’s not like I can tie him down to the ground and force him to eat something.” This image is an important visual of what we sometimes try to do – force our children to change themselves.
But as I thought about this, I reminded myself that it is me that needs to change. No, I can’t force my child to eat certain foods, but I can do a lot of things that would encourage him to try new foods. I can limit the types of foods that are in the house. I could put a rule in place that required him to try 3 bites of a new food before he gets dessert. I can educate him about the importance of proper nutrition, and speak to him on his level, a level he can understand and relate to. There are a lot of other things I can do, but the point I am trying to make is that it is always a better alternative to work on changing you, rather than changing your children, and here is why:
You Can’t Change Other People
How many times have you heard this? But yet we still keep trying to change other people? Why? I think because we think it is easier to change other people. It sometimes requires hard work to change ourselves. Other times I think we don’t see ourselves as the ones with the problem. We are the ones with the problem if we are bothered by the problem. My son doesn’t care how he eats, but I do. So who needs to do the changing? Even if you don’t think the problem is yours, changing you is the best way to bring about the change you want to see. Other people will change if and when they are ready, but any amount of change on your part will automatically create change in the dynamic.
Your Children Model Your Behavior
Whether you like it or not, your children will model your behavior. They are listening to every word we say, and they are watching every move we make. This information is what children use to figure out how to respond to everyday life. And while they may not mimic you exactly, 75-80% of their behaviors are learned through modeling. If you want your children to learn patience, practice patience yourself when you are sitting in a long line of traffic. By working on developing your character, you have a great chance at passing those character traits on to your children.
Your Responses are Teachers
One of my clients has a husband that flies off the handle easily, and says hurtful and demeaning things to his wife when he does. In the past, she would try to defend herself as if she has done something wrong, which only kept the criticism coming. We’ve recently talked about what she can do differently to teach her husband how she wants to be treated. How we respond to people and their behaviors can be powerful teachers. When my client learns to tell her husband that she will not listen to him while he is angry and critical, and walks away, taking her power with her, her husband will have no other choice but to look at his own behavior. By changing you, you can help facilitate change in others.
It can be challenging to deal with negative behaviors in other people, but in reality, we can only be responsible for ourselves. So the next time your children, or anyone else, pushes your buttons, ask yourself how you can change to bring about the change you desire.