Friday, April 18, 2008

Do As I Say AND As I Do

One of the things that has been hardest to learn as a nanny is how to practice what I preach, but it is one of the things I believe most firmly in. While there are certainly some privileges that come with being an adult, I think those things are fewer than we'd like to think. The most powerful way to teach children is by example. I tell them that they must eat a decent serving of nutritious food before they get a treat, and so I must do the same, even if I would prefer to just eat an entire can of Pringles and follow it with an M&M chaser. I say that only people who behave nicely get to have a Starbucks treat, so if I lose my temper and snap at someone, I do not get a treat when we go. I say that if we cause someone else inconvenience, we apologize, so when I lose my keys because I was being careless and we have less time at a fun spot, I apologize. More than once. I emphasize that it is right to admit when we are wrong and correct the situation, even if it was an accident, so if I am wrong, I say so and do my best to make things right again. This is particularly hard when it is a tiny person who is in the right. There are few things that are harder than admitting to a three-year-old that I made a big mistake, that they were right, and I was wrong. It is humbling, truly. But how else will they learn how to admit when they are wrong if I can't show them how? How else will they learn to make a sincere apology, even when they don't feel like it, if I don't do it first? I have had some people tell me that they cannot go back on what they have said, even if what they said was wrong, because it would destroy the authority they have. Their children would find them to be fallible, and then what?

Well, then they will learn to be human beings. Then they will learn that everyone makes mistakes, and that the important thing is to do your best and to make amends when you've failed. They will learn that if their grown-ups can tell the truth, they can also. The only reason this is hard is that we hold on so tightly to our pride, to our false need to be right. "We are all wrong sometimes," I say to Jack and Mary Liz when they have gotten in trouble and are feeling down about what has transpired. And when I say it, I hope i've been honest enough with them that they understand that "all" means me, too, even when I forget to say it out loud.

At least, that is what I'm aiming for.

Well, that and a few more sticky kisses before they start being embarrassed by my requests.

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