Kids are little sponges who soak up your values and
behaviour. ‘What are they learning?’ asks Kate Sidley
1. How to treat the little guy
Someone clever said that the way your partner treats the waiter on your first date determines whether there’s a second date. I so go along with that. It’s easy to be polite and respectful to powerful, important people, but what
shows character is how you treat people who can’t do anything for you. Or who need something from you. Our kids
watch us with cleaners and hawkers and beggars. They hear how we speak to them and about them, not just the
words but the tone. And they learn that this is an OK way to treat people.
2. How to stand up for yourself
I once bought a punnet of apricots from a fruit truck on the road. The pack the guy showed me was perfect, but
when we broke out the apricots on the way home, it turned out the pack he’d popped into my bag was rotten! OK,
it was R20, but I wasn’t thrilled at being duped. I turned back. My children were mortified (a semi-permanent state) and begged me not to make a fuss. But when they witnessed a perfectly reasonable interaction, which resulted
in a punnet of good apricots, they were madly impressed.
Even more mortifying – if you’re over nine years old – than seeing your mother return rotten fruit to the vendor, is seeing your parents dance. That’s why it’s important to dance a lot when your kids are young, to immunise them against embarrassment. Also, dress up! Play that silly game where you stick the playing card to your forehead. Decorate the birthday table. Put tinsel on the dog at Christmas. I want to make sure my kids never say to their kids, ‘One thing you could never fault my mother on was her seriousness and decorum.’
Here’s one of those truth or dare questions: Have you ever told a lie to the school to get your child out of some
activity? It’s so tempting, when you want to get a head start on the long-weekend traffic, to invent a summer cold. But they see us, the small people, and add a tick to the ‘hypocritical’ column…
5. The joy of lifelong learning
My mum went back to university at 40. I remember thinking – patronising teenager that I was – that this was a
remarkable thing to do, practically in her dotage. My own children have seen me complete my MA this year, despite being nearly 100 years old. They’ve watched the adults in their lives learn (and sometimes teach themselves) piano,
and tango, and computer coding, and sourdough baking. Children experience learning in a very specific environment,
in the classroom. They learn from us that the world is full of opportunities to learn and grow.
6. Body attitude
One of the most wonderful things we can teach by example is a healthy attitude to the body. Eat well, exercise,
and don’t go on about how fat and ugly you are. They’re watching…
7. To pitch in
Children from privileged homes are among the most useless, impractical humans on the planet. Sorry, no
offence, but being waited on doesn’t build resourcefulness. Doing stuff does. Helping out. Volunteering. Role model,
and expect it in your kids. They’ll thank you one day.
8. Reading for pleasure
Because really, it is much nicer than playing Candy Crush, and better for you.
I don’t want to sound like an embroidered scatter cushion, but life is a blessing. All the more so when you
have kids watching your every move.
FEATURE: KATE SIDLEY PHOTO: FOTOLIA.COM