What Children Can Learn From Your Bad Habits

Children look to their parents as role models. They watch how their parents go about their lives, care for and treat others, and handle life’s challenges. Then they copy what they see. 

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No one is perfect, even parents. You swear, you tell the odd white lie, and you lose your temper, and then you panic when your child catches you doing things like this. Instead of worrying about what bad habits you’re teaching them and try to behave perfectly for the next 18 years, you can use the moments that you’re not so proud of to teach your children some valuable life lessons. You can show them how to right a wrong and show them that we’re all only human. But which slip-ups in your habits are harmless, and which are encouraging bad behavior?

Getting Caught In A Lie

Little white lies are usually harmless, and you can use them to teach your child a valuable lesson; that we don’t want to hurt people’s feelings. White lies like whether you like your sister’s new dress that you know she loves aren’t going to turn your children into liars. You can explain to your child that you’re trying to be kind, and show them to think of how other people feel, even if that sometimes means having to bend the truth sometimes. 

Lies that break your child’s trust are a much bigger problem. Lies like telling them that the hamster didn’t die or sneaking out for a night out with your husband while telling your worried toddler that you’ll be right back might seem harmless, but they break their trust in you. The truth can hurt, but it’s better to confess the truth as gently as you can. If you don’t do this, and they catch you in your lie, they will feel a lot more upset and betrayed. 

Chronic lying is the biggest problem. If you usually avoid difficult situations, like getting out of things you don’t want to do by saying your child is unwell, you’re sending your kids the message that it is better to not tell the truth. This is sure to come back to haunt you as your child gets older and they learn to lie to you about where they go after school or how their schoolwork is going. Nip chronic lying in the bud, even if you think you’re lying to protect your family. For example, if you’re lying about addictive behavior to hide it from your family, you’ll be helping them far more by openly seeking help from a facility like Enterhealth

Losing Your Temper

Everyone gets angry and loses their temper sometimes. There’s nothing to worry about if your outbursts of temper are only occasional, and usually deserved. It’s normal to get angry when you’re under pressure, such as trying to get everyone out the door on time and your children won’t put their shoes on or brush their teeth. 

The best way to make it right with your children after you’ve got angry and to turn your mistake into a teaching moment is to take proper responsibility for your actions, explain calmly why you got angry and upset, and promise them that you will work to change your behavior. Don’t just say that you will try to change. Apologize, and actually do it. 

Try to keep a lid on your temper. For example, if you’re struggling to get the kids to help you in the kitchen, it’s ok to tell them you’re tired and need some help, but it’s not ok to shout and call them lazy. They won’t learn to control their own anger if they see this from you, and they will start to expect everyone else to take the blame when they do lose their temper. The best way to handle this problem is to take note of the times when you tend to lose your temper and take steps to make these occasions more manageable. For example, if you get angry when you’re bothered the second you get in from work, ask the children to give you a few minutes to unwind when you get home, so you won’t lose your temper next time. 

Bad-Mouthing People

Everyone is allowed to express their feelings. Just think carefully about how you for it. For example, instead of complaining to your husband with the kids in earshot that your neighbor is lazy and annoying because she always drops her children off with you to do the school run, but never offers to watch yours in return, say something like, “I’m upset that she never takes our kids to school.” It’s okay for your children to see that you don’t always approve of everybody’s behavior, but they do need to see you express your anger and annoyance in a way that is healthy rather than destructive. Even young children can make this distinction by noticing your tone of voice and your body language. 

It’s a problem when you’re always ranting and labeling people, as this teaches your children to do the same.

Arguments With Your Spouse

All couples fight, but parents often worry about what seeing you argue does to your children. Small spats, like whose turn it is to take the garbage out or drive everyone to swimming lessons aren’t usually anything to worry about, and aren’t going to scar your kids for life. In fact, they can be good opportunities to teach children about how healthy relationships work. You can explain that sometimes Mommy and Daddy do get mad at each other, but they still love each other. This shows kids that a loving relationship sometimes needs some compromise. It’s good for them to see you apologize and make up too. 

However, if during a row you belittle your partner, shout, slam doors, call them names, or hurl accusations at each other, you’re teaching your children that this is how people in relationships treat each other. This kind of behavior can also scare them. Children will worry about which side they should be on. It can also force your children to feel as though they have to act like the adults in the family. If they see that Mom and Dad can’t get it together, they will feel as though they have to. If you sense that a more serious row is brewing, move it away from the children and behind closed doors. If the fights you have are becoming more serious and more frequent, it may be a good idea to seek relationship counseling to address the problem. 

Breaking A Promise

If your intentions were good when you made the promise, don’t worry. Perhaps you promised you’d go to your son’s soccer game, but the traffic was at a standstill and you were late. As long as you tell them honestly what happened, you can use a broken promise like this to give your kids the chance to see that sometimes there are obstacles that you just can’t get around. 

Never let your children see you make a promise that you have no intention of keeping, such as telling your friend you’ll meet them for lunch when you already know you’re going to cancel. This a trust issue, and once you’ve broken trust, you have to work hard to rebuild it. If you’ve broken a promise to your child, apologies to them, reschedule if necessary, and admit to them that you broke a promise, but that you will stay true to your word next time. If you’ve made a promise, you need to do your best to follow through. This way, as your child grows up, they will take a promise seriously too. 


Most people swear, even if they like to think that they don’t. Don’t worry too much if your swearing is rare, and is understandable. For example, if you swear after stubbing your toe, don’t worry. To try and prevent your child from copying your swearing, point out to them you shouldn’t have said a bad word and try to keep your swearing in front of them to an absolute minimum from then on. If your children see that you usually use pretty good language over an extended period of time, they will too, rather than copying your occasional swearing. 

Swearing can be trouble if you swear a lot. If you curse all the time, or your swearing is directed at your child, then your children will learn to swear too, and they might get hurt by your swearing. For example, if you catch your child drawing on the wall, an “oh damn,” might slip out, which is to be expected, but the line is drawn when you say, “Damn you, you’ve ruined the wall!”. To undo the damage of excessive swearing, you will need to make a conscious, visible effort to kick this bad habit. Set up a swear jar for you and the children. Children love to see Mom or Dad use a bad word and have to put a quarter in the jar in the same way that they do. They’ll learn from seeing you do it. 

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