When Nobody Is Watching…

Source: markmerrill.com

I just saw an inspiring post on the CFH Babywise and Beyond Facebook page that says this:

“Teach your children to have integrity…to do the right thing even when no one is watching.”

I love this thought. And I love the idea that the Ezzos teach us to instill integrity into our children. When we teach them the moral reason behind the behavior we expect (beginning no later than age 3), they are more likely to internalize these behaviors. And when they internalize these behaviors and the moral reasons behind them, they are more likely to act appropriately even when nobody is watching.

I see this in my own children. When we’re in a restaurant and I take the time to explain that other people want to enjoy their meal and not be disturbed by children, they sit up straight and look around at the people around us. It’s very different from the times that I tell them to act in a certain way just because I expect it. When they know there’s a reason that goes beyond my expectations, they are much more likely to comply.

This comment from the CFH page also serves as a warning to legalistic parents. If “because I said so” is a common theme in your home, you may get different behaviors when no one is watching. If mom and dad aren’t around to serve as an external reinforcer because the child has no internal motivations, the child may act as he pleases.

I’m reminded of a family I babysat for when I was a teenager. This family made the rounds through all the babysitters I knew (me, my sister, my neighbor, etc.). Honestly, nobody wanted to babysit for this family because the two little girls were little hellions. One time when I was babysitting them, I was chasing after one girl while the other dumped the whole jar of fish food into the fish tank. They were about 4 and 6 years old, so they were old enough to know better.

My babysitter friends and I concluded that they acted like this because they were so stifled by their super strict parents. One minute of freedom away from the parents, and they were a disaster. The parents were so strict that they required the girls to wear headbands (spiky ones!) to bed. It’s clear to me that these girls had no internal motivation to behave; they certainly weren’t internalizing the behaviors their parents insisted upon.

I hired a babysitter recently, and I’m thankful she said my boys were sweet. In fact, I’ve never had a nanny or sitter complain about my boys’ behaviors, even despite William’s sensory issues. I think my boys understand why I expect them to behave in a certain way, and they comply even when I’m not around.

So the next time you have a chance, try to spy on your child. Does he play nicely? Do his imaginary friends share and treat each other with respect? Does he watch over his baby sibling? See if he has internalized the moral integrity you expect. See how he behaves when no one is watching.

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