Monkey See, Monkey Do—How We Teach Values With Our Behavior More Than With Words

Sunday did not turn out as planned.  My husband and I offered a ride to church to a sweet, confused friend, and she gratefully accepted.  Unfortunately, when we picked her up, she had locked herself out of her house, and her husband had left already.  After church her husband was still not home.  Long story short, I invited her back to our house where she had lunch and told me stories about growing up in Southern California.  Around five o’clock she and her husband caught up with each other, and I took her home.   Both husband and wife were very grateful for my help.  I was glad that I had been able to adjust my plans for the day to be helpful, but I was also quite aware of the items still undone on my “to do” list.

Why relate this story here?  Throughout my son’s grade school and middle school years we had elderly grandmothers living nearby in nursing homes.  Whether he came with me on a visit or not, I thought about the example we set when we took time to visit.  (And I hoped that if I’m ever in a nursing home and dependent on his visits, he’ll remember this lesson.)

Children learn from our behavior.  It’s a scary thought sometimes.  They learn values from the values we live by.  When you share baked goods with neighbors, feed their cats when they are away, or babysit their child in a pinch, you are demonstrating a kind of relationship with people that you value.

This morning in The Boston Globe I read a review of the book, The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty by Dan Ariely.  The author says that we lie a lot and we fool ourselves about it.  He believes that we all want to think of ourselves as honest and good people.  But we also want to make money and get ahead, and this can lead to what he calls “cognitive flexibility.”  That’s jargon for telling yourself that the dishonesty doesn’t matter.  He also has done some research on this, and he concludes that people feel better and are more healthy when they consciously try to be honest.  It is worth considering what our behavior communicates to our children.  Ariely mentions such “lies” as lying about your child’s age to get her into a movie.  Another is bringing office supplies home from work (assuming you work for someone else).

I am not holding myself up as a paragon of virtue.  I am rather pleased about yesterday, but in general, I’m no better than most.  This is just a reminder to us all to consider what our behavior and how we spend our time communicates to children.

I would love to hear other people’s thoughts on this.  Let me know!


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Photo Credit:  D.o.M.e.N.i.C.o on Flickr


6 Responses to “Monkey See, Monkey Do—How We Teach Values With Our Behavior More Than With Words”
  1. Carolyn,

    This is one of the things that can sometimes leave me in a cold sweat: no matter how much I think about parenting, it is my own behavior that will make the biggest impact on my kids. And then I remember–I don’t want them to expect perfection, from themselves or from me, I want them to be able to make mistakes and learn from them. So, as a parent, my mistakes can be teaching moments for all of us.


  2. Ann,
    What a great perspective. This is the perfect antidote–I had sense that this post asked people to set a high standard for themselves. Indeed, breathe deeply, and try hard, and forgive yourself.
    Thanks, Carolyn

  3. JoAnn Jordan says:

    Setting examples of being truly human – succeeding and failing, are important roles for parents. It helps our kids know the don’t have to be perfect, just the best person they can be in that moment.

  4. Hi Carolyn – Lovely story. It can be so difficult to share out limited time with others. yet this is what is important and what is being lost today. Yes our actions really do shape our children’s emotional life. I think we just need to be “good enough.”

  5. dr.cstone says:

    So true. That’s all any of us can be–the best we can be in the moment. Thanks, JoAnn.

  6. dr.cstone says:

    Thanks for your comment, Kathy. You all have reminded me that our highs and our lows can educate our children.