By Debra Karplus
Children are very skilled copycats. They instinctively know that actions speak louder than words. They learn behaviors by being astute observers of the people around them who they admire and love, people like their parents and their grandparents, yes, you. The way you act has a much greater impact on your grandkids than you can possibly imagine, so clean up your act, Grandma and Grandpa.
Road rage is bullying.
Little Taylor and Jamie are in the back seat as you’re driving along downtown Chicago’s well-travelled North-South main superhighway, Interstate 94. You’re responsibly driving the speed limit in the right lane, but some jerk is tailgating you. He then passes you and practically cuts you off as you’re attempting to change lanes.
You aggressively try to cut him off in retaliation. Without thinking, you shout some words that the little ones in your car really shouldn’t be hearing and then you make an inappropriate hand gesture to the driver in the other car. Not a good role model, Gramps.
Learn to manage your anger when your grandchildren are present. Imagine that the little ones are visiting at your house while you’re on the phone with the cable company. It seems that the cable company idiots can’t seem to get your order correct no matter how many times you’ve been on the phone to them after navigating their phone menu and listening to canned music while you, their valued customer, according to their repeated message, wait on hold for what seems like hours. You’re frustrated. And who wouldn’t be?
When you finally get a real person on the line, your voice gets progressively louder and shriller as you very overtly remind the individual who’s attempting to assist by taking your call, of her ineptness, in a less-that-polite manner. What kind of message does your dialogue give to your grandchildren, Granny?
Children learn to ridicule those less fortunate by mimicking you.
Perhaps your grandchildren are with you when you stop at the supermarket on the way back to your house. You’re in the checkout line and the clerk, helped by a very nice and personable young man who has a slight speech impediment. Barely out of sight of the clerk, you make a somewhat derogatory and uncompassionate remark about his speech to your grandchild. If your grandchild makes fun of someone at school where do you think he or she might have learned to do that? Yep, from you.
Thumbs up for assertiveness; thumbs down to aggression.
A child who has a healthy sense of self is one who has learned how to be a self-advocate who knows what is rightfully his or hers and is up-to-bat for himself. That’s what being assertive is all about. It involves taking ownership for all our behavior whether we make good choices or poor ones. But aggression is a very different animal, a dangerous animal.
So how could Grandma and Grandpa replay the above scenarios when the grandchildren are present, and (in a perfect world!), even when the grandchildren are not around?
- The road rage dude is probably best dealt with by just driving safely and not acknowledging this aggressive tailgater.
- The cable lady on the phone is probably doing the best job she can. Perhaps she feels lucky to have the job she has. Just be patient and polite to her.
- And regarding the grocery cler, just remember that none of us is perfect adn that we are all born with flaws. Count your blessings that YOU are luckier than most.
Model for your grandchildren caring and empathy and you will have played a most crucial role in their ability to have a lifetime of healthy interpersonal relationship.
Debra Karplus is a licensed occupational therapist, teacher, and freelance writer for national magazines, baby boomer, and grandmother of two. She lives in a Midwestern college town. She has been published in Grand Magazine in the past and is a featured columnist. Learn more about her at http://debrakarplus.blogspot.com