“Do as I say and not as I do.” Hopefully we as parents don’t use this line anymore.

Children naturally imitate what their parents do and how they live, but they don’t oftentimes listen to their words. How frustrating! So, what does this mean for us as parents? How should this affect our style of parenting?

We can’t merely tell our children what to do; we must model lives worth imitating. In fact, our actions–not our words and instructions–are a more successful indicator of our children’s behavior now and in the future.

The mistake I made in my early parenting years was focusing too much on what my kids were doing and how they were acting instead of focusing on my own issues. I thought my job was to attempt to control their behavior in order for them to begin acting appropriately. I never thought to look at myself and how my inward state affected my children.

Then, several years ago, God did some major work in my heart. One of the first fruits of His work in my life was the ability to let go of my perfectionism. My son also dealt with perfectionism and my response to him had always been mere words–“Just let it go,” “Be easy on yourself,” “It’s ok to make mistakes.” My words had absolutely no affect, but when I began giving myself grace for my mistakes, my son followed suit and began finding the grace for himself. My heart healing resulted in his heart healing!

What a revelation this was! As hard as it is to admit that our children’s mental and behavioral issues are oftentimes learned from us, their parents, it is also so freeing and reassuring to know there’s a solution.

It starts with us.

We naturally replicate in our environment what we have cultivated in our hearts. For example, that person you know who is the life of the party. It doesn’t matter where they are, they bring fun into the environment because that’s just who they are. If you’re married, have you noticed how you and your spouse feed off each other? If my husband starts cleaning, I often get the motivation to clean also. If I start working out, he gets the motivation to do the same.

This concept is more evident in our children who are receiving directly from us. They watch our lives closely and imitate us. And it’s not just our behavior that they imitate; it’s our character and heart conditions that get passed on also. A mother may do all she can to hide her body insecurities from her daughter, but she still finds her little one looking at herself in the mirror and evaluating her body. We can’t usually hide these things. They come out in our children.

Now, not all of our children’s issues come from us. And not all of our positive character traits and healthy habits will be passed on to our children. Even so, it is worth considering this idea when we see negative behaviors and patterns pop up in them. Be honest with yourself and ask God if He is showing you these traits in your children as a signal to you.

You can do something about it! You can surrender your heart to the ultimate Physician and then see how your healing affects your children.

Psalm 139:23-24

“Search me, O God, and know my heart;

test me and know my anxious thoughts.

See if there is any offensive way in me,

and lead me in the way everlasting.”