As a parent, you know it’s important to lead by example.
As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “What you are speaks so loudly, I can’t hear what you are saying.”
But life can get so busy.
There are chores to do, errands to run, projects to complete, and events to attend.
And of course, there are also children to bring up.
So it’s to be expected that many parents rarely ask themselves, “Am I setting a good example for my children?”
Through my extensive 1-to-1 work with pre-teens and teens, I’ve observed first-hand how much influence parents have on their children – whether good or bad.
So in this article, I’ll share with you 30 simple ways for you to set a good example for your children.
1. Be vulnerable. Don’t be afraid to tell your children about your failures and shortcomings. Share with them how you’ve learned to be resilient. Explain to them how you overcame the challenges and obstacles you faced.
2. Value relationships over material wealth. I’ve heard it said that we ought to love people and use things. But many people do the opposite: they love things and use people. Show your children that relationships always matter more than things.
3. Embrace challenges. Get outside your comfort zone on a regular basis and confront your fears. Your children will learn from your positive attitude.
4. Be committed to personal development. Always be improving yourself in some way, e.g. knowledge, habits, skills, emotional control. Your children will see how committed you are to leading a better life, day by day.
5. Write cards to your friends. My own mother used to do this often as a way of encouraging her friends. This helped me to see how vital it is to invest in your friendships.
6. Volunteer and do charity work. We all want our children to serve others and contribute to their communities. Let’s set an example by making a difference through some kind of volunteer work.
7. Invite your neighbours over for dinner. By doing this, you’ll show your children the importance of hospitality. You’ll also forge a deeper relationship with your neighbours.
8. Take care of your health. I’m sure you want your children to be healthy and strong, so lead by example in this area. Exercise regularly, eat well, and get 8 hours of sleep every night. Not only will you be healthier, but you’ll also have more energy to be a great parent!
9. Focus on health rather than appearance. Many parents I know often complain about their “fat thighs” and “flabby arms”. This sends the message to their children that appearance is what matters, when health and healthy habits are what actually count.
10. Compliment others sincerely. By paying someone a sincere compliment, you might make his or her day.
11. Manage your emotions. When faced with frustrating or worrying situations, use various techniques to stay calm. Your children will learn from you how essential it is to stay in control of their emotions and not take things out on others.
12. Listen attentively. This is one way to show respect toward others. So if someone is speaking to you, put away your phone or any other distractions and listen attentively.
13. Don’t be too concerned about what others think of you. As Ann Landers once said, “At age 20, we worry about what everyone thinks of us. At age 40, we don’t care what anyone thinks of us. At age 60, we realise that nobody has been thinking of us at all.” We should be more concerned about living a purpose- and values-driven life, instead of worrying about gaining the approval of others.
14. Ask to hear the opinions of others. Instead of just caring about what you think, seek out the opinions of others. This will widen your own perspective.
15. Become an organised person (if you aren’t already one). Write things down, use a calendar, and always have a plan. Your children will see your example and become committed to developing organisational skills too. I’ve observed that organised people tend to be far less stressed!
16. Forgive yourself and forgive others. If you’re living with shame or regret, now is the time to forgive yourself. And if you’re holding on to grudges because of what others have done to you, now is the time to forgive them.
17. Be generous with your time and money. Show your children that resources are meant to be given and shared for the benefit of others. The more we give, the more we live.
18. Be grateful. If you find yourself complaining often, decide that from today onwards you’ll cultivate a spirit of gratitude. Over time, your children will become more thankful too!
19. Don’t say negative things about yourself. I know parents who say many negative things about themselves, e.g. “I’m too uneducated to be successful”, “I’m impatient”, “I have a bad temper”. Focus more on opportunities and possibilities instead of your limitations.
20. Follow the rules and obey the law. Do this even if there’s no chance of you being caught for any wrongdoing. By displaying integrity, your children will learn to do the right thing, even if no one is looking.
21. Be dependable. Few people do what they say they’ll do 100% of the time. Become one of those people, and demonstrate to your children how crucial it is to be a trustworthy person. I’ve observed that the more dependable you are, the more likely it is that you’ll be successful.
22. Apologise when you’ve made a mistake. My coaching clients (the majority of whom are pre-teens and teens) frequently tell me that they don’t respect their parents. This is because their parents don’t apologise, even when it’s clear that they’ve made a mistake. Don’t be one of these parents!
23. Celebrate the successes of others. Acknowledge and celebrate the successes that others achieve. This way, your children will understand why they should never be a sore loser.
24. Find meaning in your work. All work (except work that is illegal or unethical) is meaningful. Work isn’t something we have to do; it’s something we get to do in the service of others, while also earning a living. Demonstrate to your children that with the right attitude, work can be enjoyable and fun!
25. Ask for help if you need it. We all come to a place where we need help. If you need assistance or guidance, don’t hesitate to reach out. As the African proverb goes, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
26. Live within your means. Don’t get so caught up in the pursuit of material gain that you buy things you can’t afford. Living beyond your means will lead to a life of stress and possible ruin.
27. Buy what you need, not what you want. As a follow-up to Point #26, practise asking yourself the question “Do I need this?” instead of the question “Can I afford this?” You might be able to afford something, but if you don’t need it, then you probably shouldn’t buy it.
28. Read for leisure. If you don’t read for leisure, your children are unlikely to read for leisure. Once in a while, share with your children the interesting things you’re learning through the books you’re reading. Your children may become more motivated to work hard in school too!
29. Make an effort to mend broken relationships. As Dr. Scott Sticksel once said, “Life is relationships. The rest is just details.” If your life is full of broken relationships, it’s almost impossible for you to find joy and fulfilment. So if there are broken relationships in your life, take the first step toward resolving the conflict.
30. Be excited and passionate about life. One of my coaching clients recently said to me, “My parents don’t seem excited about anything in life, except eating good food.” This client of mine was troubled by this fact, and he wondered if his life would turn out to be as “sad” as his parents’ lives. I’m not here to judge anyone, but if you want to set a good example for your children, then choose to be passionate about life. Learn a new skill. Show kindness to others. Start a new project. Conquer a fear. Contribute to your community. Get outside your comfort zone. Take just one small step today!
At this point, you might be thinking, “You mean I’m supposed to do all these 30 things to set a good example for my children? I’m not perfect, you know?!”
Of course, you’re not perfect. Neither am I.
But we can always strive to improve, to become better people and better parents who have better parenting skills.
So I encourage you to identify just one or two items from the list that you’d like to work on. Make one small change this week, or even this month.
As John C. Maxwell said, “People may teach what they know, but they reproduce what they are.”
This principle applies to parenting too. As parents, we reproduce in our children the traits we possess.
As such, if we want to raise exemplary children, we need to lead exemplary lives ourselves.
This is a lifelong journey that we get to embark on. So let’s embrace the challenges along the way with hope and excitement!
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