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Show or Tell? The Importance of Role Modeling

Laura Kuehn, LCSW

Show and Tell is one of my daughter’s favorite activities at school. She loves the idea of bringing a little piece of home into school with her. We therapists call this a transitional object. It helps bridge the gap between where we were and where we are going. It’s a wonderful tool used by wise elementary teachers across the country.

Recently, I had cause to think about the degree of show and tell in my life – particularly as it relates to parenting. It occurred to me that we tend to be much better at the telling part of parenting than the showing. Here are some of the best known parenting tactics that employ “telling:”

  • Explaining
  • Justifying
  • Lecturing
  • Cajoling
  • Pleading
  • Repeating

I think most of us have this part of parenting down pat. We seem to have the gift of gab. And often times the content of our telling isn’t even negative – we talk about the Lord and His standards, we talk about His word, we talk about how He wants us to behave. These are all great things. Unfortunately, on it’s own, telling is one of the least effective methods for training and teaching our children.

Want to know the most effective way?

Showing.

Not lecturing. Not reminding. Not explaining ad nauseum.

Showing.

And I don’t mean simply showing your child how to dry a dish (although that is often more effective than a verbal instruction). What I am talking about here is modeling.

So if you want a kid who is patient. . . Be patient.

If you want a kid who is thoughtful. . . Be thoughtful.

If you want a kid who will listen to others. . . Be a good listener.

If you want a kid who loves Jesus . . . Make Him the center of your life.

Don’t worry. I am not about to burden you with the goal of parental (or personal) perfection. We would all be crushed and incapacitated by that load. We simply need to open our eyes so we can see when we are justifying our “show” and focusing too much on our “tell.” It is all too easy to be a “do as I say, not as I do” parent. Here are some examples:

  • We feel justified with venting our impatience because, after all, we did ask him THIRTEEN times to pick up his backpack.
  • We feel morally right in telling our kids to speak kindly about kids at school – never mind that we were just gossiping about a neighbor to our spouse.
  • We get frustrated when our children don’t pay attention in church even though our minds quietly drifted away for a few minutes as well . . .

So how do we reconcile our duty to train our children in the ways of the Lord when we are frequently faced with our own inability to measure up?

The answer is in Lamentations 3:40-41:

Let us test and examine our ways, and return to the Lord! Let us lift up our hearts and hands to God in heaven.”

We pray. We submit. We seek and we search. We examine ourselves on a daily basis. And, when necessary, we apologize to our kids when we don’t live up to the standards that we preach.

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It turns out that all those elementary teachers are right: it is a matter of show and tell. So when we fail to show our children the right way through our actions, we can use it as an opportunity to tell them all about the One who forgives and loves unconditionally . . . and always practiced what He preached.

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”   Matthew 11:28-30

About the author

Laura Kuehn, LCSW

Laura Kuehn, LCSW

Laura Kuehn, LCSW is a licensed clinical social worker specializing in children and families. CfP is the place she combines some of her very favorite things: writing, parenting and God’s word. She loves encouraging parents to build their families upon Jesus, the one true Cornerstone. She is happily married to a wonderfully supportive husband and is the mother of two delightfully inspiring children.

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