“Oh how cute!”
That was my first thought as I saw a young boy, probably three or four, walking behind an adult man, presumably his father, down the street the other day. They were dressed the same, in khaki shorts and a white shirt, and the little guy was imitating the adult’s every move.
And then I noticed the cigarette in the man’s hand and the pretend cigarette in the child’s hand as they both lifted to their mouth to take a puff as they walked.
My heart sank.
Now, I’m not here to make some theological statement about smoking, so please don’t tune out. My heart sank because this little child has already had modeled for him and imitated an unhealthy behavior and that has a profound effect and influence on him.
Multiple studies have shown that children learn by imitating adults. Psychologist Mark Nielsen, of the University of Queensland in Australia says that scientists “have been finding this odd effect where children will copy everything that they see an adult demonstrate to them, even if there are clear or obvious reasons why those actions would be irrelevant.”
Children don’t know how to differentiate between what is healthy and unhealthy, necessary and unnecessary, and, from a moral and ethical standpoint, what is good and what is bad. They simply learn by imitating.
Nielson also says, “We see these sorts of behaviors as being a core part of developing this human cultural mind, where we’re so motivated to do things like those around us and be like those around us.” Think about that. The “human cultural mind.” So if over the past few weeks, months, years, you’ve said something like, “What is going on in our culture today?” the answer is quite simple: Our children are imitating us, or at least imitating what they think is “us.”
We have a profound and unfathomable influence our our children.
I’m not sure this fact can be emphasized enough. Psychology Today states, “Parents vastly underestimate how closely they are observed and how constantly they are evaluated by their child.” We, as parents and involved adults, have far more influence than any other source -more than peers, more than media, more than celebrities, more than anything. We are literally forming the human cultural mind every. single. day. just by raising our children and ministering to families and kids.
So…let’s give them something worthwhile to imitate! Or, as some anonymous person once said, “Children are great imitators. So give them something great to imitate.”
Here are five imitable actions you can do in your home, on the road, when you get up and when you go to bed that can help your child develop their cultural mind.
- Practice Hospitality – Let our children see us interact with others, as many others as we are capable of, whether that is through inviting them into the home, interacting in public places, serving others in tangible ways, or just making space for others in our family life and prayer life such as sponsoring a child or praying together for others.
- Pray (when and where they can see us) – Yes, the Bible does tell us to pray in secret but it also tells us to impress upon our children the commandments of the Lord, one of which is to pray. So pray with them, pray around them, pray often and pray confidently. Model for them where it is we run in times of need and times of praise so they will do the same.
- Engage Scripture – It’s one thing to let our children see us reading the Bible, but it is another thing when they see us actual engage the Scripture in conversation and practice. Pray for your enemies. Love the stranger. Do good to those who hate you. Pray for those imprisoned. We can DO all these things and let them know the reason we do is because Scripture tells us to.
- Love Each Other – Seriously, do it and do it in ways that are imitable. Show affection to your spouse. Hug your children. Make a habit of telling them that they are loved. Show them how to love.
- Face the Tough Questions – I think there’s probably nothing more frustrating to a child then seeing a parent or caregiver dodge issues or not answer questions. When things come up that are difficult, it might be easier to ignore it or try to shield our kids and ourselves from it. But what a great practice it would be to acknowledge the hard things in a way that brings them to God and invites His peace into each situation. And what a great thing for our kids to imitate; to see us proactively addressing life’s curveballs with God’s grace and pursuing peace. (Ps. 34:14)
What are some other ways that we can “give them something great to imitate?” I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas. Let’s do this -let’s change the cultural human mind by giving our kids things to imitate that welcome the kingdom of God into our world.
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About this Blog
Refocus Ministry was started by Christina Embree, wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and church planter at Plowshares BIC. With years of experience in family ministry and children’s ministry, she is passionate about seeing churches partnering with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. She recently graduated with a Masters of Arts in Ministry focusing on Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family and Seedbed