Do What I Do

Yesterday I was driving in heavy traffic. Cars were backed up several blocks from the traffic light. That, in turn, had caused cars trying to enter the flow of traffic on the main thoroughfare to be at a standstill. When I arrived at a side street, I paused long enough to allow a car to enter the line. Looking in my rearview mirror, I saw the car behind me do the same thing. I smiled. The driver of that car was my teenage daughter.

Modeling good behavior for our children is not always that easy. But we want our children to grow up to be solid citizens who exhibit good character at all times. Dr. Kirk Neely, family counselor, says, "The concept of modeling — leading by example — is not a new idea. It is an old idea, tried and true and new in every generation." According to the Josephson Institute of Ethics, there are six "core ethical values" which contribute to the make up of our basic character. Those six things are trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship.

How can I instill those values in my children? How can I live in such a way that my children will mimic the good things I do? What positive (or negative) values do I pass on to my children without speaking a word?

Before my children could even talk they learned to mimic the behavior of those around them. To teach them how to wave goodbye, we waved at them. To teach them how to use a fork and spoon, wash their hands and put on clothes, we showed them by example. Many of the basic lessons in life were learned by imitating someone who had already learned them.

But as the children got older, we realized that we were going to have to put some conscious effort into the basic principles and values we wanted to be a part of their character.

When two of our daughters were in junior high, they rode to school with their dad. One morning Dad turned into the school to let them out. He had the right of way, but another father seemed to think he should have been allowed to turn in first. After arriving on school grounds, Dad pulled over to the curb and Grant Beam rammed his car into Dad's.

Several weeks later we took the children to court with us. We sat on the back row as men in shackles and handcuffs paraded in front of us for their cases to be heard. Each time one walked back, the children were wide-eyed.

"Hey, Mom, what did he do?"

"I'm not sure exactly what it was. He probably stole from someone, didn't respect someone else's property or maybe got in a fight."

Whatever those men and women did, they were visual examples of the consequences of bad character for my very impressionable children.

When the time came for our case to be heard, Mr. Beam took the stand. Under oath and after only one question, he began a false account of the incident.

"Mom, that's not what happened. Let me go up there and tell them what really happened."

"You can't let him get away with that, Dad."

"Shh!" whispered Dad. "We must respect that it is his turn to speak. We will have a chance to tell our story."

As the officer in charge questioned both fathers, it became obvious only one could be telling the truth. Everyone in the courtroom knew they were witnessing character on display, both good and bad.

Mr. Beam had no qualms about twisting the facts as he spoke. Evidently, lying under oath was permissible. After all, he was looking out for his best interests. If he lost this case, he would be responsible for car repairs and his insurance would go up. Not to mention he would have a documented case of road rage on his record.

Somewhere in his past there was a gap. Someone had not successfully taught him the lessons of honesty, trustworthiness, caring and respect.

On the other hand, Dad respected Mr. Beam as a person and his right to state his case. Dad sat silent, I'm sure he was praying, as his accuser was interrogated. He modeled the character traits of self-control, faith in the justice system and trust in knowing he was doing the right thing.

The judge had no trouble deciding the case. Dad's testimony, the testimony of an eyewitness, and the investigating officer's report were exactly the same. Grant Beam was found guilty and his insurance company was responsible for all the damage.

But even more important, truthfulness, honesty, self-control and respect were key factors in the victory.

In order to model character to our children we must act from the overflow of what is deep within us. Somewhere along the line, someone did the same thing for us. We are who we are because of the way character was modeled to us.

Many things contribute to the character of a person. When we are young those around us teach us constantly. Behavior and attitudes on television programs have a profound impact on helping us develop our concept of right and wrong.

Character has a lot to do with right and wrong. But the character of a person includes the way that person acts and reacts in the face of adversity. In Paul's letter to the Romans, he reminds us that "suffering produces perseverance, and perseverance produces character." Holding your head high when things are difficult develops understanding, compassion and strength. Character that is grown during the hard times is the strongest character of all.

Teaching those most precious to us, our children, is an awesome responsibility. But it is a privilege and opportunity to leave a positive character legacy in the lives of our children. However, we must begin to develop that legacy early in their lives! We must constantly be teaching by word and example.

An old TV commercial illustrated it this way:

A young father and his four-year-old son walked through a field and sat down under a tree. The father reached in his pocket, pulled out a cigarette and lit up. The son, observing, looked around beside him, picked up a three and a half inch stick and put it in his mouth. They both began to puff.

Are your kids watching you? All the time. Does it matter what you do, even when you think they are not looking? Absolutely.

Background Information

Journey of No Return
Sometimes as parents, we have a knee-jerk response to our kids as we're barraged by their numerous inquires and desires. Maybe it's time to stop being so negative.

When Not To Discipline
Parents should recognize when they should and shouldn't discipline their children.

When You Feel Like Calling in the SWAT Team
Are your children constantly testing you? This classic parenting advice will help you regain the upper hand.

Questions and Answers

After I spank my child, she usually wants to hug me and make up, but I continue to be cool to her for a few hours. Do you think that is right?

We'd like to be more unified in our approach, but how do we successfully move from two financial approaches to one?

How long do you think a child should be allowed to cry after being punished? Is there a limit?

I have never spanked my 3-year-old because I am afraid it will teach her to hit others and be a violent person. Do you think I am wrong?

It just seems barbaric to cause pain to a defenseless child. Is it healthy to spank him or her?

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RelationshipsParents and Adult Children, Blended Families