Have you ever seen a child imitate a behavior they just observed? Or catch them trying something out they saw happen in their home, on TV or when they were in a public location? These small snapshots of a day in the life of a developing child can make anyone smile. However, they also give us first hand examples of just how impressionable young minds are.
Depending upon what professional you speak with, these imitation behaviors might be attributed to “Learning Theory,” or in some situations, “Script Theory.” Other family scientists call it “modeling” or attribute a child’s actions to something called “Symbolic Interaction.” But regardless of what this phenomenon is called, it’s real. It happens every day in the life of a parent and child. And, it’s way more powerful than you might sometimes think.
I wish I had a positive impact video to show you along side this particular clip. However, I think it does a pretty good job and getting the message across of my post today:
Parents teach children all kinds of behaviors, however, both negatively AND positively. I thought I might share a list with you today about how you can teach your child “what being married, or being in a good relationship with a co-parenting partner” is all about. You might have your own items to add to this list as well, and I’d love for you to share them in the comments section.
While having a child “in between” the two of you is fine occasionally, make sure and spend some time in front of them sitting side-by-side. Proximity is a powerfully silent statement. Have you ever seen someone walk into the room and they are separated by a great deal of space? How about those sitting right next to each other? When you see someone side by side, it creates an “image of alliance,” and this idea of alliance or “partnership” is a powerful message about marriage for a child.
Make sure your children observe you dedicating time and attention just for each other. While it’s true that much of a parent’s life is all about spending time with children, monitoring their development and guiding their lives, taking “parent together” time is actually PART of that same process. Without ever saying why, you’re showing them that by having an established date night, or arranging for a weekend away a couple of times each year, that being married is important. And, that renewing that marriage is part of a normal process.
Make sure your children observe you working through a tough time as well as positive interactions. If children don’t observe parents having differences occasionally, or expressing their individual perspectives and then working to find a solution together, they will be less equipped to understand that people CAN get through conflict or disagreements. If they see you take a time out, that’s okay. They also need to see, however, that you came back together and found some common ground. Observations like this help build the characteristic of “commitment,” which is one of the strongest factors in helping them stay in a relationship of their own some day.
Make sure your children see you hug, or express physical touch every once in a while. Sometimes parents mistakenly believe that physical expressions of endearment are better left for private places. If your child, however, receives a hug or a smile…or a pat on the hand from you, but never sees you do this with your spouse, then that builds incongruency in their minds. It will either teach them that grown ups don’t hug or show affection, or that somehow it’s wrong for grown ups to interact in this way. And, while it’s normal for children (especially as they grow older) to say things like, “Oh – that’s gross, mom!” or “Dad – get a room!” and tease you about hugging or kissing, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that you’ve just shown them a long-term relationship can still be affectionate and warm.
Make sure and show your children a unified front during family celebrations, stress or transitions. Sometimes, when parents are feeling stressed or somehow have turned inward, it’s difficult for them to remember they are a team. However, including your spouse in “thank yous” if you receive an award, recognizing them as a support when you’re talking to someone about a loss in front of your children, or other interactions they might witness, sends a cue to them each time. It shows them that spouses are grateful toward the other and appreciate support from each other – during good times and bad.
I could write quite a few more examples, but I believe the point has been made. Your children’s marriage may very well reflect much of what yours was/is…and I’ll bet your wishes for theirs are positive and hopeful. Good luck thinking through what your children hear and see about relationships. And, good luck being their best teacher!