Monkey See, Monkey Do
“Don’t raise your voice…Speak to me respectfully…Stop texting…That’s a mean face…You are always on your computer when I’m trying to talk to you”.
We hear ourselves as parents speaking these words, but stop and ask yourself: how often have you heard your children speaking to you in this way?
Our 21st century children are emotionally perceptive and acutely aware that the very same life skills we claim to teach our children may be profoundly lacking in the adults in their lives. At this time of self-reflection, we must glance in the mirror at how we are functioning as role models for our children and recognize that the way we act sets the foundation for a lifetime of positive connections, including their relationships with us.
Mirror neurons are fascinating brain cells that are activated when one observes another’s behavior as well as when one is enacting the behavior, a physiological basis for “monkey see-monkey do.” When we witness a three-year old perfectly mimic our “schtick,” we quickly realize that the budding comedian either has a future in stand-up or has already started to pick up on our subtle (or not so subtle) idiosyncrasies and mannerisms. Can we really criticize our children for throwing a tantrum when they are tired, frustrated or hungry, when we adults (with our fully-formed prefrontal cortexes) act the same way? As these mirror neurons fire away, we must remember what behaviors we want our children to embody and who is responsible for modeling them.
Asking thoughtful questions helps us engage in rich dialogue, exhibit empathy and problem solve life’s challenges with increased grace and encouragement. Take a moment and ask:
- What healthy coping skills do I have?
- Do I persevere when faced with obstacles?
- Do I have a sense of humor when I make a mistake?
- Is technology use interfering with my family relationships?
- How can Jewish tradition and celebration positively impact our sense of belonging, significance and family togetherness?
Recently, I was driving in my car during a brief moment of rain, seemingly having a normal conversation with my teenage daughter when I was shocked to learn that she had been recording a video of me that would later be shared with her friends on “snapchat.” Fortunately my spirited monologue about surface tension on the oil-slicked road and its impact on frictional force was nothing to be ashamed of, but it did highlight the reality that we are constantly being “recorded,” and the files are not readily deleted after uploading.
“Mistakes are opportunities to learn” is our mantra at Irvine Hebrew Day School, and we apply this same principle here, letting this wake-up call propel us to become our best selves. In the 4th chapter of Pirkei Avot, Ethics of the Fathers, an honorable person is defined as “someone who shows honor and respect to other people.” In this time of self-reflection and personal improvement we set the stage to grow our souls and our relationships with our children to new levels of love, honor and respect. _
Tammy Keces M.A. is the principal of Irvine Hebrew Day School and a lead
Certified Positive Discipline Trainer. Published in Jlife 2015