Monday, June 13, 2016

Parenting Pointers: Kids Don’t Listen, They Imitate

Rabbi Dr. Roger Herst

Wait, don’t give advice. Just sit back and watch the interaction of other parents with their kids. Yes, that’s right. Watch others dispassionately. And what do you observe? Do you see these parents lecturing to their kids with desirable results? Do you see the children listening intently to their parents and then taking their orders, or their advice? Do you observe great success in this method?

Of course, not. Now put yourself into the picture. Try barking orders to you kids. Do this; don’t do that! Do you see young eyes fixed on you, eagerly drinking in your words of wisdom? Do you witness them moving immediately to follow your instructions. Frankly, I don’t think so.

Now for a moment back off and observe how animals bring up their youngsters. Do birds talk to their progeny? Or dogs, or cats, or deer? Of course not. They are not blessed with language so they play the old game of “Show and Tell.” Geese, for example, will teach their goslings incrementally. They will take them to a grassy field and start feeding. The goslings imitate them eating grass. Then they’re taken to a pond for a swimming lesson. The parents enter the water and paddle on the water. Their kids watch what Mon and Dad do, then follow suit. That’s got  to impress any parents.

Human parents are usually frustrated when their kids don’t listen to them. But they’re not frustrated when their children imitate what they’ve seen them do. My father played the piano by ear. As a children I would sit next to him, and over the next decades learned to duplicate his piano techniques. He was a quiet man who never gave me instructions. But what he did, I imitated. Today I can play piano by ear.

If good parents rely less upon speech and more upon setting models for imitation they will be more satisfied with the result. Adult good table manners beget good child manners. Courteous speech begets courteous speech. Good hygiene begets good hygiene. But be advised, imitation is not immediate. It takes time, sometime many  years. But it works!

About Roger E. Herst
Roger E. Herst, author of “A Simple Formula for Raising Happy Children” (, is an ordained Reform rabbi with MBA and doctorate degrees. A father and grandfather, Herst regularly engages with parents in the form of Platonic dialogue – a cooperative Q-&-A approach meant to stimulate critical thinking – to yield logic-based solutions for raising happy children.

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