Behavioural Karma – originally published November 3, 2008

As parents, we have more influence over our children than anyone. When the children are small, especially, one area in which this is very apparent is the way in which they speak. Nothing is more warming to the heart than your children repeating something kind that they have heard you say. For example, the conversation that occured earlier today between my boys.

Mark: “Jake, that is a really nice tower you are building. You are really working hard!”
Jake: “Why, thank you Mark”.

Less warming to the heart was the announcement from Mark that our “garage door is a piece of shit”. Clearly, he was in the garage with Rob when our psychotic garage door started its semi-weekly hooligan activities. But I digress.

I try my best, I honestly do, to speak to the kids as I wish them to speak, with good manners and what we call my “nice voice”. It’s a bit of conversational karma. I can’t justify forcing them to behave a certain way if I do not behave that way, and so I say please, thank-you, sorry, excuse me. Mostly.

Last week was a crazy, busy, overscheduled week for us and, as is usually the case when things are crazy, busy, and overscheduled, the children were threatening to make me check into a mental hospital. Kindergarten tours, dentist appointments, a three day visit from my sister-in-law, and Halloween with all its sugar-infused festivities, in addition to our usual playdates and preschool all added up to an exhausting week. I found myself tired and snappish, and, if I can quote Jake, “speaking too sharply”. Not surprisingly, this is what I was getting back from them. It’s funny how when I’m busy and frantic, I seem to expect them to be Little House on the Prairie children: seen but not heard, maybe working on some needlepoint or silently drawing on a slate. I never seem to remember that when I am busy and frantic, they become frantic, and all of a sudden they need need need things from me. In a five minute span they need snacks, and drinks, and the markers down from the high shelf, and also paper, and then I need to read a book, and also play farm animals and where is my little blue car, you know, the Hot Wheels one, the little one, no not that one! And then it’s no surprise that I hear my own voice coming out of their mouths, directed at one another: “Jake, I want that book right NOW!” “That is ENOUGH out of you!” Then I realize that the whole week I have been snapping “Why don’t you have your shoes on?” instead of “Please put your shoes on now”, or slowing down a bit to help.

And so today we start a new week, in a new month, and I resolve anew to take the time to treat the kids as people, who don’t need to be shrieked at to behave a certain way, but just to have behaviour modelled for them from their number one influence. I guess it’s behavioural karma.

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