Living the Golden Rule of Parenting

Eye See YouHave you ever had the pleasure of hearing your toddler repeat something you said when you didn’t think he or she was listening?

Grandma, Mommy said she never has liked your tuna casserole but I think it’s delicious!

Or to the neighbors, My Mommy thinks if you weren’t so snobby then maybe you’d smile more.

It’s always awkward to discover that their little ears are absorbing what we’re saying even when they don’t appear to be listening.

As parents, we often make the mistake of not giving our toddlers enough credit to fully comprehend what’s going on around them. This isn’t just speculation: new research shows that young children are able to pick up on stereotypes and in response, act on the biases they observe.

The study from researchers at the University of Alberta focused on toddlers’ perceptions of older people. In an article on, one of the project’s researchers stated that, “The study results answer some specific questions about children and the development of ageism, but the implications are bigger.”

So what does this all mean? That toddlers are soaking up not only our words, but our attitudes as well.

I’m willing to bet that most of us want to raise our children to be loving, compassionate, accepting people. Passing on stereotypes is typically not part of our parental vision.  We teach our children about fairness and tolerance. We tell them that calling people names is wrong, that pointing out others’ differences is rude. If it were that simple to avoid, I’m sure an overwhelming majority of us would.

The thing about stereotypes, though, is that they often lurk below the surface of our daily lives. We may consider ourselves progressive or evolved, but the truth isn’t always evident in our words. It’s in our behavior.

We may go to great lengths to teach our children the Golden Rule, but are we living it ourselves?

Here are some questions to consider:

Do you encourage both male and female children to play with the same kinds of toys (i.e. trucks vs. baby dolls)?

Do you react differently when a male toddler cries than you do when a female toddler cries?

Do you expose your toddler to people in non-traditional gender roles (such as careers that have traditionally been gender-specific)?

Do you expose your toddler to individuals of a different races, socioeconomic status, and religions?

Are there other biases or stereotypes that you’re passing on to your child, even in subtle ways?

I know that I, personally, could do a better job of teaching my toddler to be accepting of many types of people. I’m sure that in ways I’m not even aware of, my biases are causing her to form her own.

Parenthood is a constant reminder to be the best person I can be for her, because little ears are listening- even when I’m not aware of them.

Being a mother is having a mirror held up to my face, and in it I see the eyes of a little girl. She’s watching my every move. I want to make the right ones, and I’m sure you do, too.

Photo Credit: Peasap/Flickr

Mary Lauren Weimer is a social worker turned mother turned writer. Her blog, My 3 Little Birds, encourages moms to put down the baby books for a moment and tell their own stories. Connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

More Posts by Mary Lauren:

Is There Tension Between Parents and Non-Parents?

15 Colorful Ways to Enhance Your Toddler’s Development

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