Ever heard the phrase, “Kids are like sponges?” Well… it’s true, and a lot more than you think.
To start, let me explain why I think this topic is important.
As a father of two young children – ages 4 and 2 – I find myself in the center of endless discussion, questions and explanation. My son (Everest) is asking all kinds of questions about life and the way things work. My daughter (Sepia) quickly follows suit at a lower level.
To align with the common cultural term – they are “sponging” hard.
Every day they observe and store new information. Unlike adults, young children have no previous experience, judgements or biases. Everything is new to them.
The Computer Analogy
Given my technical background, it’s only natural for me to think about this in geek fashion. Here’s my general comparison –
In many ways, young children are like new computers. A new computer is lightning fast because it comes with core applications and no stored data. It’s basically empty. Children are born with the same attributes – a new brain with virtually no stored knowledge.
Over time the computer starts to store data and run the applications you install on it. As a result, it starts to slow down and become more “opinionated” about it’s decisions and processing.
Children are the exact same way as they grow into adults! As they grow they learn new things and start to form various opinions, beliefs and thoughts. Their questions take longer to answer and their decisions become more complex. Things take longer to process.
Now back to the watching…
As I mentioned before, your children are observing and watching you every day. Here’s the part to really tune into – with this observance they are storing foundational information.
Your child’s early observations are stored as foundational information.
What do I mean by that?
They are storing early information, just like computers, that they will go back and reference as they grow. Every day their brain grows like a database, and these foundational data points play a huge role in how they make future sense of their world.
These data points also influence their habits, patterns and future behavior.
For example, I’m sure you have a few things you’ll never forget that your parents told you when you were younger. You know, that lesson or principle that they told you in a serious voice at a monumental time. Your brain stored that moment as foundational information and it’s now become a key memory. More importantly, it’s shaped the way you look at the world whether you realize it or not.
I recall my dad telling me at a young age, “You always have to try things.” as it related to eating. Not only did that shape my view on food, but it influenced my macro personality. As an adult I now seek diversity and change in most facets of life.
Thanks, Dad 🙂
So why is the watching important? Why now?
This is the piece I want you to realize. This is where I start to poke at your habits in effort to help you become more self-aware. This is where you might get defensive… but I encourage you to answer these next few questions in an open and honest way –
Do you use your phone in front of your child?
If yes, do your children ask you to see your phone or use the iPad? Hmmm… I wonder why.
Have you yelled at your children to make them do something?
If yes, has your child ever screamed at you to get their way? Hmmm… I wonder why.
Do you sit on the couch and watch TV/Netflix most nights after dinner?
If yes, do your kids ask to watch something every night after dinner?
I think you get the point.
The actions you take NOW are critical to your child’s personal development for years to come. They are watching. They are also processing what they’re watching and turning it into habits, opinions and interests. They will do what you do, think like you think, and take interest in what you interest.
This is not an absolute inference, obviously. But it holds mostly true. Just look at your core habits, beliefs and opinions. Many of them are probably similar to your parents’ versions. Our children are a reflection of us in every way – from DNA to behavior.
With this in mind, here are some things I’m currently intentional about:
I don’t use my phone in front of my children unless it’s a phone call or picture moment.
Like most people, I previously did use my phone in front of them… but quickly realized that it was curving their desire to be on the devices.
I don’t yell or raise my voice unless it’s a moment I want them to remember as “severe.”
There are times where this is helpful – i.e. examples of danger. To be clear, I did have my yelling moments as an early father… but quickly realized that it was not effective. In fact, it had the opposite effect – they started to tune me out when my voice got loud. So now I use it sparingly.
I exercise in front of my children.
We have “exercise time” almost every day in our house. This is a time to get outside and move our bodies. I generally do a 30-minute workout that involves rigorous exertion. Some days my children even do the workouts with me! But even when they don’t, they see daddy exercising regularly.
I don’t “work” at home in various rooms.
My office is where I work and my children know that. Any other laptop use outside of my office is for fun or exploration. I want them to know when daddy’s working vs not.
We don’t waste food in our house.
My wife and I generally always finish our meals, and if we don’t, the left-overs get saved or composted. Our kids see this and strive to join “The Clean Plate Club!” They know that food is something to be grateful for, not something to take for granted.
Most importantly, I’m focused on how my actions set an example.
Instead of telling my children, I try to show them.
This is so powerful, and the underlying theme that aligns with how they’re “watching.”
When you start to think like this it makes your actions a lot more meaningful. It opens up a deeper level of intentionality. This allows you to own the true role of parenting while helping your children learn in the most effective way.
Now to be 100% clear – I’m not claiming to be father of the year over here. I’m figuring things out each and every day as I go, just like the rest of you! These are merely some of the things I’ve experimented with in effort to better understand my role as a father.
What are your children watching?
To close, I challenge you to think about all this and reflect on how it applies to your family. Take some time to answer the following questions honestly:
- What are your kids watching you do?
- Are you being intentional about these actions?
- Have you considered that what your kids watch you do has foundational impact on their future?
Leave some notes in the comments below! I’d love to hear some reactions.
Ali is a father, husband and serial entrepreneur with a deep drive to create. He writes, records, codes and builds things to inspire the artist in all of us.