When it comes to discipline the difference between telling and showing is often lost on parents, but our kids understand completely.

Telling is, of course, telling your kids what to do (and often what NOT to do). Sit down, don’t lie, don’t swear, don’t steal, don’t talk back to your mother, etc. This is the easiest form of parenting because we can simply tell our kids how to behave and then lose our tempers and get mad when they “don’t listen”.

Showing is the difficult part of parenting.

Do you tell your kids not to lie? Keep that in mind the next time the in-laws call and you ask your wife to tell them you are in the garage. Do you get mad at your kids when they swear? Watch your lips the next time you drop a glass in the sink or your favorite football team fumbles the ball.

The examples that I mention above are pretty easy to avoid because we can watch what we say when our kids are in the room. However, there are many other traps involving more complex behaviors that are much harder to avoid.

“Get outside and get some exercise.”

This was a favorite of my parents; it was usually said after supper when my Dad wanted to lay on the couch and watch TV. I heard him say it, but because it wasn’t something that he placed value on in his life, it wasn’t something that I placed value on in mine. I simply went outside until I thought I could come in again, or more likely, snuck into the next room and played with some G.I. Joes.

I’m sure that if you really think about it, you can come up with at least one thing you do that sends a mixed message to your children. Maybe you go to great lengths to strap them into their carseat, but don’t bother to put on your own seatbelt. Or, perhaps you talk to them about the importance of staying positive, and then complain about work all through supper. Whether your children are 2 or 22, they learn how to react and respond to life by watching Mom and Dad deal with the events that happen in their life.

Leading by example. It’s something I need to do more of.