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Monkey see, monkey do

Published February 19. 2011 09:00AM

When I was a little girl, my younger sister Judy used to copy a lot of my actions. She thought it was cool to be like her big sister. Our mother always laughed and said "Monkey see, monkey do." That saying can be best explained if you stand outside and look up at the sky. I'll bet that the next person who walks by will also look up at the sky. We human beings are a curious lot.

If you stop and think about it, the very first mimicking we do is of our parents. We try to sound out the words they use, we adopt some of their physical traits, and we notice their bad habits. A parent who thinks that their infant child isn't capable of noticing what they do is sadly mistaken. Even the very youngest child can notice what goes on around him.

What do your children learn by watching you?

…. that it's OK to smoke?

…. that using curse words is acceptable?

…. that white lies are used to get out of a jam?

…. that adults can use their fists to solve a problem?

…. that not wearing a seat belt is no big deal?

…. that welfare is a life-long manner of support?

…. that names like "nigger" and "spic" and "wop" are acceptable?

Children always pay more attention to what their parents DO than what their parents SAY to do. Parents set an example by their behavior, and the children act out their parents' manners and values.

One good way to start thinking about this topic is to decide what values your family has or should have. What's important to your family? Make a list. Talk about how you can demonstrate that value to the rest of the world. For instance, if you value togetherness, think about the time you spend together. How often do you eat meals together, go on trips together, sit and talk about your day?

It helps to talk with children about family values. Each family will probably have a different set of values, but that's normal. We're all unique and special. If your family's values are VERY different from the rest of the world, maybe your children will have trouble being accepted in school. Taking that condition to the extreme, a family with deviant values may actually be dangerous.

I always tell parents that "Apples never fall far from trees." Of course, I mean that children are usually very much like their parents in every aspect. They pick up our genetic make-up through biology, and they pick up our personality traits through close proximity and environment.

Sometimes a child can grow up and reject everything that his parents taught him. A good example of this is the son of famous atheist Madeline Murray O'Hare. He was raised in a home that did not tolerate the mention of God. His mother went out of her way to have all religious references removed from public schools and government. What is her son doing today? He is a minister.

On the other hand, how about the parents of a wayward child who ends up being a serial killer? Those parents must daily question what went wrong. They lived a perfectly normal life, went to church, worked hard, and raised their child in a loving home. Everyone was shocked at the outcome. What could possibly have gone wrong?

Some psychologists would try to put all of the blame on the parents by deciding that the home must somehow have generated the problem. Others might blame society, the media, or a biological sickness that affected the impressionable youngster. Personally, I'd like to believe that there is no single reason for deviant behavior. Children grow up to be different for a multitude of reasons.

Take a good look at the way your child is learning what is important from you. Parents are the strongest role models a child has. Remember - monkey see, monkey do.


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