What You Live is What They Learn

An Edited Excerpt from the Introduction to Respectful Parents, Respectful Kids: 7 Keys to Turn Family Conflict into Cooperation

By Sura Hart and Victoria Kindle Hodson

As a parent, of course you want to have influence with your children; you want to pass on values and guide them in ways that will contribute to their happiness and success in life. The question is: How can you have the most influence with your children — by lecturing and taking them to task or by sharing your values and living those values yourself?

It is commonly believed that a parent’s job is to teach and enforce cultural values. Customary methods for doing this include lecturing, advising, making demands, and correcting behavior. This parent-as-teacher orientation is, unfortunately, a set-up that creates frustrated parents, irritated children, and conflict all around.

At the same time that you are doing your best to teach your kids cultural values, they are doing their best to develop a sense of self-direction and self-respect. All too often they learn to turn a deaf ear to you and your advice. They avoid saying anything that might result in another lecture, admonishment, or ultimatum that reminds them how they are failing to live up to your expectations.

Respectful Parents, Respectful Kids offers a refreshing alternative to managerial parenting. The good news is: you don’t have to figure out how to change your kids’ behavior, and you don’t have to manage anything, in order to end conflicts. The parenting we advocate is in many ways much simpler and more instinctive than this. It is also more effective in meeting the needs of kids and parents, in the short term and, especially, in the long term. It builds on the good feelings you and your children experience at your most connected moments, and it addresses the only behavior you can actually change — your own. The beauty of it is, when you change your behavior, your kids’ behavior will change too.

Everyone knows that actions speak louder than words. In fact, studies show that only 5 percent of lifelong learning comes from instruction: 95 percent of what we remember comes from family and social interactions. At some level you likely know that your children learn more from what you do than from what you say. You may hear your own voice in the way one sibling talks with another. You may hear your children using the same line of reasoning with you that you use with them.

Think for a moment about what you learned from your parents. Did you learn the most from, or even listen to half of, what they told you? Or did you learn the most from what you saw them do and how they lived their lives? Many parents tell us that they learned from painful experiences with their parents what they didn’t want to do with their own kids. Whether their modeling was positive or negative, your parents’ actions are a primary motivating force for the way you are parenting and the life you are living now.

Children need parents who live honestly and with commitment to their values. Parents have a chance to be exemplars and model what they want their children to learn and live. This is an invitation and opportunity, and for many it is a powerful incentive to get clear about what has purpose and meaning for them and to do their best to live in harmony with it.

To live authentically, with clarity about what is important and true for you, is the goal — not perfection. Giving up the ideal of being a perfect parent can be a huge relief. Then, when you blow it and do things that don’t match your values — as you will — you won’t spiral down into self-condemnation but will be able to enjoy the opportunity to be honest with your children and let them learn what honesty looks and sounds around. And because you aren’t expecting perfection from yourself, you will be less likely to expect it from your children.

Part I. The Foundation for Respect & Cooperation

The three chapters of Part I focus on the underlying dynamic that links the two things that parents say they want most: respect and cooperation.

Part II. The 7 Keys to Cooperation

The 7 Keys that make up Part II gradually develop parents’ capacity to establish a home as a No-Fault Zone—a place where valuing every family member’s needs equally and doing one’s best to meet them replaces fault-finding, punishment, and reward.

  • Key 1 — Parent with Purpose, helps you align with your deepest reasons for parenting and your deepest desires for your children.
  • Key 2 — See the Needs Behind Every Action, takes the mystery out of why children act the way they do and introduces a needs focused approach to parenting.
  • Key 3 — Create Safety, Trust and Belonging, draws upon scientific research to confirm the crucial role that physical and emotional safety plays in children’s development, and then shows you how to provide it.
  • Key 4 — Inspire Giving, invites you to identify your child’s gifts, receive them gratefully, and encourage a mutual flow of giving and receiving.
  • Key 5 — Use a Language of Respect walks you, step by step, through the process language of Nonviolent Communication, showing how you can translate all criticism and blame into respectful expression of needs.
  • Key 6 — Learn Together As You Go encourages you to explore, investigate, and co-create with your children, with the confidence that there are many ways to do things and many strategies to meet needs.
  • Key 7 — Make Your Home a No-Fault Zone reveals the true source of conflict and the path you can take to transform conflict situations into heartfelt connections.

Part III. Family Activities & Stories from the No-Fault Zone

Part III provides a wide range of games, activities, and cut-outs for additional skill development as well as for fun and further exploration. For inspiration and real-life stories from parents who are using the processes introduced in this book, go to the end of Part III for Stories from the No-Fault Zone.

Sura Hart and Victoria Kindle Hodson are coauthors of The Compassionate ClassroomRespectful Parents, Respectful Kids, and The No-Fault Classroom, as well as creators of The No-Fault Game. They bring a combined 45 years of elementary teaching and parent education experience to their work. As cofounders of Kindle-Hart Communication, they’ve been developing and facilitating parent and teacher education workshops together for over 20 years.