We talk to a lot of parents because we’re curious about the experience of being one. They tell us their hopes and fears, their concerns about the future and the things that bring them optimism. Over the years, their stories have helped us developed an appreciation of what it means to be a parent. One of the striking facts that seems to jump out is related to the observational learning and the normalization that children do when they seeing their parents doing ANYTHING. This is something that we see in our coaching clients everyday – most of them are doing what their parents did when they were growing up.
Things that parents pass along to their children that don’t serve to optimize development:
Teaching ineffective exercise habits. Active parents tend to have active children. When a parent teaches a child that there is joy in moving, we rarely need to work with them in any way other than to help them achieve peak performance. With a well-established baseline, young people tend to continue to move. They may decide to go as far as they can in a sport or simply become a recreational participant, but the activity habit is sticky and most enjoy the lifelong benefits associated with maintaining an active life. We do however work with a lot of individuals who didn’t have the exercise habit modeled when they were younger and there is a host of issue associated with this lack of movement. It is fair to say that teaching an adult how to love moving is one of the bigger challenges primarily because they have already learned how to love NOT moving.
Teaching children poor eating habits. A serving size is a different thing for every family but it tends to be the same size for everyone in the same family. Lean parents tend to raise children who are closer to their ideal body weight and composition than obese parents, who tend to raise children who are heavier. Families who sit down and eat meals together tend to continue to sit down and eat meals together. Parents who help children view food as the source of nutrition, building material and the occasional treat establish a repeatable and reasonable relationship with food. Those who teach their children that food a reward and that every meal should consist of foods that are enjoyable and easy tend to raise children who are lazy when it comes to their attitudes towards food preparation.
Not teaching children how to not win. Learning how to handle defeat or not being the best appropriately will go a long way in giving a child an advantage when it comes to life. Human beings do most of their learning by making mistakes – trial and error is how each of us learned how to walk, talk, move, etc…. However, at some point we are taught to feel shame for being wrong and this causes us to close-up and avoid the experiences that will produce useful lessons. There is a trend towards eliminating failing grades in schools to ensure that no child endures the lesson of accountability and responsibility until they graduate high school. The impact of missing these lessons can be devastating given that failing in school opens a person up to improved coaching / teaching while failing in the work force eliminates their employment. There is an equally damaging trend toward sports tournaments becoming festivals in which everyone participates and is regarded as a winner. The stigmatization of everyone being the same is likely more damaging to motivation than the consequences of not being the best.
Passing long a tendency to give-up before success or goals are achieved – phrased another way, allowing a child to rely too much on talent or innate qualities to garner attention or positive reinforcement vs. reinforcing their effort. Trying is a skill that will last a lifetime. Looks will fade, other people will come along who naturally better at something, talent burn itself out over time as one ages. If a child never learns the value of putting in enormous effort in order to increase the likelihood of success, they will tend to give-up very quickly before achieving anything in terms of transformation, success or problem solving. Those individuals who are taught to work hard regardless of the outcome will be at a distinct advantage when it comes to achieving ANYTHING.
Now each of these things can be taught to a young person through direct intervention and teaching or they can be taught passively through modeling. Teaching is not the same as doing, so when you try to teach a child these skills, you do not reap the benefits associated with BEING those skills. Modeling tenacity will guide a child towards persistence alone with generating greater success for a parent. The same applies to being an active parent who takes a direct role in food choices; not only will their children learn how to eat more effectively and develop a love of movement, but the adult will enjoy an improved quality of life a boost in vitality that can only come from participating in a health choices.