“Your kids watch you for a living. It’s their job; it’s what they do. That’s why it’s so important to try your best to be a good role model.” James Lehman’s quote made me realize that sometimes we forget how observant children really are in daily life. I was recently reminded of this and it gave me pause. It was a small interaction, but still had an impact on my thought process.

Sitting in seats and not on tables is a simple rule for children, yet I, the “adult,” broke it. Needless to say I was called out by a 4 year old when he said, “Mr. Lee, I thought we were not supposed to sit on tables or desks.” At that moment, all the rationales I had accepted for leaning against that desk at that moment were silent. This observant child was watching and I had, in that moment, let him down, doing the opposite of what the adults are trying to instill in him.

I thought back to an idiom “do as I say, not as I do” and how much I hated that and thought it was so unfair and hypocritical. Yet here I was being the same pietist that I despised. Non-verbally-conveyed poor leadership and communication from someone that they look to as a guide, even for a split second, can make boundless questions in their forming minds. When I interact with children reminding them repeatedly of the correct way to act is inevitable, but more important is for me—and for parents as well—to remember these same lessons.

Children respond to people they see as guides in their lives—parents, teachers, clergy, law enforcement, for example—if those role models also take time to get to know them, treat them with respect, provide clear and consistent communication (verbal and nonverbal), and model the behaviors they are teaching.

What can we do daily to ensure that the observations match the lessons? Respect the child as an individual. Show them that we care about who they are and how they are doing. Make sure the non-verbal and verbal communication are aligned. Since an estimated 55 to 90 percent of all communication is non-verbal, what clearly comes through to the child is what is lived. I like the rule, “Be as I am,” more than, “Do as I say.”

“The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.” - William Arthur Ward

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