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Why “Do as I Say, Not as I Do” Doesn’t Work in Parenting

I often find that if I do what I tell my kids to do, I make healthier choices.

I often find that if I do what I tell my kids to do, I make healthier choices.

I wonder how many times a day/week/month/year we find ourselves as parents saying or thinking, “Do as I say, not as I do.”

Like when we pull out the carrot sticks at snack time, then sneak into the pantry and grab a handful of potato chips?

Or when we insist that they go to bed on time, and then we stay up until midnight and wake up cranky, tired and irritable — precisely the behaviors we were trying to curb in them by getting them to bed right on time.

Or even when we shoo them out the back door to go play in the yard and, you know, get some exercise while we watch them from the safety of the kitchen window? (Maybe so we can nibble on a cookie without having to share for once?)

We know better. Obviously. We know what the healthy choice is: to eat our (not deep-fried) veggies. To get a good night’s sleep. To make time to play and move our bodies. And yet, again and again, we don’t do it.

Oh the hypocrisy of parenthood! It’s a shame that kids are so darn good at scouting it out. They catch you with that handful of chips and they know where carrots rank on the list of desirable foods. You beg off playing in the yard one too many times and suddenly they wonder why they can’t stay in and watch from the window as well.

And lest we think that maybe if we “teach” well enough with our words they’ll be able to make better decisions than we do, let’s look at the latest research, shall we?: Moms’ and kids’ activity levels are directly linked to each other.

An active mom means an active child. And that means, of course, better health for everybody involved.

This study, which came out of the UK, also showed that moms of young kids aren’t very active. There’s a part of me (the part that is chasing my 20-month-old around all the time) that wonders why it is so hard to get moving. But then there’s the other part — the part that is exhausted from chasing my 20-month-old (and her two older brothers), that thinks I’m going to sit right here and not move for 10 minutes at least and I don’t care if they tear the house apart.

But I wonder if, in the context of parenting and setting an example of an active life, the fact that I get out of my seat at meals three times to refill water cups, clean up spills, or retrieve fallen utensils, is completely lost on my kids as “activity” — but playing soccer with them in the yard, walking to the library, or actually “working out” is not.

Or maybe it is simply the attitude of “I don’t mind moving my body, playing with you, and using my legs to propel me from one place to another” that rubs off on them.

Whatever the case, I think it is possible that we make “being active” too big and too hard for us to handle. We think we have to go running every day, or get decked out in our yoga gear, or actually sweat, when that is not the case. It doesn’t have to be that hard. It just means taking a walk together, playing tag in the yard, leaving the car in the garage if the destination is less than a mile away and it’s a nice day out.

As the study’s authors say, we don’t need to become athletes to raise children who are active. We just need to move our bodies more. We need to show our kids how it’s done — to do as we knew we should do. And then, if all goes well, we’ll all be be able to sit down to a plate of carrot sticks together — right after our epic game of freeze tag in the yard — with no double standards to ruin the taste of our snack.

Photo credit: Lizzie Heiselt

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