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Monkey See, Monkey Do
My 8-year-old daughter injured her foot in a head-on-collision with the pavement a few days ago. Even though the scabs have mostly healed and her pride has since recovered, she thinks it necessary to walk with a limp to remind us of her unfortunate mishap. She only does the limp when she’s bored, is in no rush to get anywhere, or when she has a captive audience. Today was the latter. With my mother and my best friend in town staying with us, my daughter really played up the gimpy routine. As we all watched her shuffle down the hall to her room, taking one regular step with her good leg and then dragging the bad leg behind her, we were amused to see my 3-year-old daughter following her lead and limping with the same foot. We stifled our giggles so as not to promote it, and returned to our conversation.
A few hours later, I walked into the living room and asked my older daughter to close her eyes in an attempt to hide the red velvet batter for her birthday cake that I was carrying in my bowl, and open her mouth for a taste. I gave her a bite and turned to offer my littlest girl a sample as well. I found her sitting on the other end of the couch with her eyes closed and her mouth wide open, waiting for a bite herself. Monkey See, Monkey Do.
The imitating and copying our kids do can be adorable, endearing and encouraging, as it means they’re picking things up without having to be actually taught how to do something. The mimicking they do can also be a reality check for your own behavior. When your 5th grader drops the F-Bomb in your presence and your kindergartener smokes an imaginary cigarette with her imaginary tea, you realize as a parent, ‘you’ve got some ‘splainin’ to do.’
We’re going to pass bad habits down to our kids. There’s really no way around it. I challenge you, though, to take two minutes and think about the things you do and say around your children. Model the future by imagining how it feels to you when your child duplicates that action, those words, or that belief on his own. Will you be proud of him? If the answer is no, get rid of it when you’re around your kids, at a minimum.
Imagine what it would feel like to take it out of rotation all together. Would it be the end of the world? If you can fathom existing, maybe even happily, without that behavior, belief, or language, just go for the gold and drop kick it out of your life.
If you can’t envision your life without the drunk driving, name calling, heckling, obsessive cleaning, or whatever idiosyncrasies you own, then hold on to it; to each his own. Just be prepared for your little monkeys to do what they see.
Stacy lives in Chicago with her partner, Katie, and their two daughters. She writes about any and everything, but focuses on parenting issues. Read more at Parent Unplugged.