Your Kids are Watching, What Are You Teaching Them?


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In a rush of memories recalled by the video being projected onto the wall, I was reminded of countless times my parenting skills didn’t qualify as Father Of The Year material.

It was the last session of my son’s driver’s education class and parents were asked to attend the last half of the session. The instructor was attempting to drive home the point that the only way we will ever create a culture of safer drivers was for us parents to put in the time and effort to teach our sons and daughters how to be good drivers. The video being shown was that of a young boy and his dad, with the voice of the child telling his dad that he is watching, and learning from his actions regardless of whether the adult is aware of it or not.

The child states he is learning how to treat people, his work ethic, and countless other traits all by watching his dad.

At one point during the video, a clip is shown of the father sitting at the kitchen table with a stack of bills, a calculator, and a checkbook looking frustrated. I started pondering what my actions have taught my children about parenthood, finances, and life in general.

I can think of several commonplace actions that occurred while we were struggling financially that were bad examples for our children to mold themselves after.

What did we teach our kids by paying them their allowance late, or not at all? Did we teach them that it’s OK to ignore your financial responsibilities, or that it’s OK to pay bills late?

What did we teach our kids by recognizing they needed some new clothes,telling them we would do it in a week or two because we couldn’t afford it at that moment, and then going out to eat? We had our priorities out of whack, and likely taught them that they should put their own wants ahead of the needs of the family.

Thankfully our finances never got to this point, but what would a child think of the phone constantly ringing due to calls from bill collectors? I wouldn’t want my kids to think that was normal.

I want my kids to go into adulthood with good examples of their parents handling their finances, which is why I go out of my way to make sure they witness with their eyes and ears what we do now.

My wife and I have our bi-weekly financial discussions right out in the open at the kitchen table. They can see and hear us talking about when bills are due, when income will arrive, how much we have left over. I want them to see us communicating and working as a team.

I make a point to deliver their allowance each Friday as promised. I want them to learn that every financial obligation is important, and needs to be taken care of on time.

I have a notebook that is always on the kitchen counter. When one of our kids tells us something they need (shampoo, deodorant, shorts, shoes, etc), I write it on the current list on the notebook. When Vonnie and I build our spending plan, the things our kids need are first on the list. We want them to know that they, and their needs, are the priority.

In the video, the young boy also tells his dad to not be afraid to show his mistakes. He learns from them just as much as his father does. Our kids have seen our mistakes, but they’ve also seen us learn from and overcome them. Which set of examples will they mold themselves after? I hope they learn from our mistakes just as we did.

Your children are watching you and learning. What are you teaching them?

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29 Responses to “Your Kids are Watching, What Are You Teaching Them?”

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  1. Awesome post, Travis. As you know, we have been there too, but I think probably the most prominent lesson you (and we) have taught our kids about money and life is the importance of facing up to and cleaning up your mistakes, pulling up your big boy pants and getting back on the right track. And you’ve done that awesomely. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Travis says:

      Agree, Laurie- I make mistakes, and I’m not afraid to tell my kids that “Dad was wrong.” I want to them to learn that it takes STRENGTH to admit your mistakes, and to correct them. The sooner you get yourself moving in the right direction, the sooner you reach your goal.

  2. Excellent post Travis! I was just talking with my wife the other day about how our oldest has picked up a few of the phrases I use while driving and using them in the car with her towards other drivers. That just made me wince as I know full well they’re watching and that they’re sponges. Like Laurie said, I think the prominent lesson is facing up to your responsibilities and taking care of mistakes.

    • Travis says:

      Kids definitely listen to you in the car… time (I think Tristan was 3 or 4 years old), my son was playing with his matchbox cars on the coffee table, when suddenly something told me I should pay attention. He was holding two cars, one behind the other moving them both very slowly as he repeated over and over “Go, dumbass. Go, dumbass.”

      Um….yeah….I wonder where he picked that up from. ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. debt debs says:

    All you can do is move forward, but I must admit to having some guilt over what I may have done in the past. It’s just not productive to dwell on it. I go out of my way now that my kids are young adults to offer my services to help them with debt repayment plans, mortgage amortization tables. They know they can come to me for advice too, which is an awesome feeling. I haven’t told my own father the extent of our debt yet because I don’t want to disappoint him, but he knows we are living frugally so I think he has figured something out.

    • Travis says:

      My fear, debt debs, is that they “learned” our bad habits, and no matter what we do now, we cannot reverse what has been ingrained in their brains. Hopefully that’s not the case.

      I know exactly what you mean about not wanting to disappoint your parents. Even though we’re grown adults, it’s hard to tell your parents you’ve made a mistake. The thing is, once my parents (and other friends and family) found out, they were completely supportive. Don’t be afraid to tell people, the important thing is that your DOING something about it – thanks for you very honest comment!

  4. Kim says:

    You really have to be a good example everywhere. I know there are probably a few kids who see their parents continually make mistakes and become polar opposites, but I think this is the exception. Usually, we become what we know. That is true for money, attitudes, habits, being healthy, etc. I also think it’s important to acknowledge your mistakes for what they are and hope everyone can learn from them.

    • Travis says:

      It’s easy to just continue along the same course, but it takes strength to admit you took the wrong path. I want my kids to learn that mistakes WILL happen, but they can be recovered from. Being a parent is more than just feeding and clothing your kids – you have to put in the effort to teach them to good human beings! Thanks for stopping by!

  5. Very good points Travis!! I remember picking up so much from what I saw from my parents. Kids are like little sponges. The absorb everything! I think it goes beyond kids though. One of the 4 Agreements is “be impeccable with your word.” The same can be true for your actions.

    • Travis says:

      I’ve been thinking of this more and more recently, Tonya – especially in regards to our daughter. I saw something else recently that showed that how fathers treat their mother sets the standard for how they will expect to be treated by men. It makes me want to put Vonnie on a pedestal – not only because she deserves it, but because I want Tori to expect absolutely nothing less than being respected and adored by her spouse.

  6. Great post Travis. I can relate. I have said “no” to my Children so many times over the last few years it makes me sick. When I do I explain to them the why. Our past mistakes, the goals we are working towards, for them understand and learn not to duplicate what we have done.

    • Travis says:

      The hardest time to say “No” to me, Brian, is when you’ve been on the other side of the same conversation. I had to say “no” to my daughter just this week telling her that she was too young to do what she was asking. I HATED being told that when I was a kid. Before I even said it, I knew it was going to make her angry and upset, but I knew it was the right answer. Sometimes being a parent is freakin’ hard!

  7. Great post Travis! I don’t have kids, but Ana and I are saving for the wedding and seriously talking about creating a family. What we will and won’t do as parents, how we want to raise our children, etc…this post really gets me thinking, thanks!

  8. I am worried that I am teaching my kids to be workaholics. They see me work all the time- on vacation, in the evenings, etc. I hope they learn to have a better work-life balance than I do sometimes.

    • Travis says:

      I’m right there with you, Holly….software engineer by day, blogger by night. I’m trying to spend a dedicated amount of time each night for blogging, and then ensure I spend some family time, but it doesn’t always work out.

  9. Average Joe says:

    Hopefully I’m telling them how to do what dad says, not what he does.

    Ha! I don’t want to worry my kids but I want to teach them financial responsibility….so I try to involve them in as many financial discussions as possible.

    • Travis says:

      Good plan, Joe – I look for any and every opportunity for a financial lesson with my kids. Going to Target, saving for a new computer component, and even going for ice cream – there’s an infinite supply of lessons just waiting to be learned!

  10. I see this with the driving example in my family. My older brother is a terrifying driver, getting angry, tailgating, unnecessarily switching in and out of lanes… My dad shakes his head, and then I get in the car with him and he does the SAME THING. (Then I shake me head : ) )

    • Travis says:

      LOL, the driving instructor used a similar example – he told a mother that her daughter was a little heavy with the accelerator, and asked her to work on it with her. The mom said she hadn’t noticed, but would pay closer attention. Then proceeded to squeal the tires out of the parking lot – If you don’t notice what you’re doing wrong, your kids will simply copy the same mistakes!

  11. E.M. says:

    This is so true, Travis! I watched my parents struggle with money, but I also learned from their mistakes. Sometimes I think I’ve learned more than they have. I saw first-hand the impact debt had on them, and I realized I never wanted to be in that position. I’ve had no problem navigating away from consumer debt, but my relationship with money isn’t the healthiest.

    • Travis says:

      Wow, that’s awesome that you recognized your parents mistakes and learned from them. It’s also good that you realize that your relationship with money isn’t the healthiest – knowing the problem is half the battle – now you can just work on making it what you want it to be! Thanks for reading!

  12. I generally don’t swear, but put me behind the steering wheel in bad traffic, and it’s a different story. I cringe at the thought of all that my kids have heard me say while driving the car! They laugh their heads off, but it can’t be leading to anything good. My husband and I do our budget work in a little office – tucked away. I really like your practice of having those conversations out in the open. I’d like to give that a try. Thanks for a helpful (and humbling) post : )

    • Travis says:

      Sometimes I wonder if they should be hearing our conversations, as they could easily hear the numbers we’re talking about – and I’m not sure I’m comfortable with that. But I figure I’d rather have that but also have them physically witness Vonnie and I working as a team.

      • Are you uncomfortable with their hearing your numbers because of security issues? Or is it more because of the taboo around discussions of personal finance? If it’s because of the taboo, I’m all for breaking through it.

        • Travis says:

          When I was a kid (probably about 10 years old), I heard my parents throw out a number that was my Dad’s salary. It took me less than a day before I had told all my friends how much my dad made. I’m not sure why I did that because I didn’t have any context regarding if that was a lot, not a lot, or how it compared to the cost of living. My kids are older than that, but having my kids know exact numbers, and the potential of that information spreading just isn’t something I’m comfortable with. Although it does give me an idea for another post. ๐Ÿ™‚

  13. jefferson says:

    Nice reminder, Travis.

    I have to think of this whenever I am giving my teenager a long lecture about why it sucks when doesn’t clean up after himself, or why he shouldn’t play video games for more than a few hours p/day.

    Kids learn from watching their parents.. I am teaching them more every day with my behavior than I would from all of the lectures in the world..

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