Showing vs. telling in parenting.

by Jennifer Dyer

As a writer, the concept of showing and telling often haunts me. Am I telling the reader my character is upset? Or am I showing them: “He pitched his briefcase in the car and jammed his keys into the ignition. Yanking the door shut, he didn’t bother to pull the rest of his jacket into the interior. Let it flap around and collect road grime. Why care anymore? He jammed the accelerator into the front bumper and left a satisfying trail of of rubber behind.”

Showing is far more powerful. It is the difference between put-me-to-sleep stories and those that transport you to another world. It takes more effort, more thought and planning, but the end result is worth it.

What about in parenting? Am I showing my kids how to behave and/or react to circumstances, or am I telling them and, in essence, refusing to practice what I preach?

A while back, a few of Eldest’s friends were having an issue–no surprise there. Tween girls are surrounded by drama. Anyway, Eldest told me about her conversation with Friend A regarding the problem. It was actually pretty mature, with Eldest and Friend A trying to work through the issue rather than say mean things about the other person, but I could see the potential for hurt feelings.

I asked her, “What if Friend A repeats what you said? Even though your words were intended as kind, it could be taken the wrong way, and you will be the one hurt. It’s easy to slip from being helpful into gossip. Be mindful of what you say so that it won’t come back to hurt you or anyone else.”

Good advice? I thought so, since I said it.

So, a few hours later, I caught myself conversing discussing … gossiping with my sister about so-and-so’s problem, trying to solve things that were none of my concern. Was it truly gossip? The subject of the conversation might think so. But my even bigger concern was what Eldest thought, as she was in earshot.

I’m not sure if she was listening, but I realized I was telling Eldest how to behave, but showing her another way. And showing is …

Much. More. Powerful.

Showing is what Jesus, the perfect parent, did for us. Jesus did not simply tell us about himself. “Hi, all. I’m God. You’re not. You need me. The end.”

Jesus showed us he was/is the ultimate personification of love and light by living a sinless life, enduring trials, and dying on the cross as the perfect sacrifice. He did not only tell us he loved us. He showed us.

And that is powerful.

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One thought on “Showing vs. telling in parenting.

  1. Very appropriate subject. What a great way for us to realize whether we are showing or telling our children/grandchildren by our words and actions. Also goes along with our Bible Study this summer.

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