Parent As Teacher

Job one in a civil society

The best kind of parent you can be is to lead by example.

Drew Barrymore

Every parent is a teacher. When a parent is loving and affectionate in both word and deed, the child learns. When they provide guidance and nurture the child’s health, education, socialization and interests, he or she learns. When a parent contributes toward building a child’s confidence and a positive self-image, he learns. In an atmosphere of mutual respect, acknowledgement and praise, children learn. When parents engage their children in conversations about their feelings and experiences with other people to help them manage their self-image and stress, they learn. And when parents help their children develop a moral-ethical compass and qualities of character such as kindness, honesty, compassion, patience and respect—by demonstrating them—they learn. (1)    

We all begin life learning by inheritance—the time, place and family context into which we’re born.  For many children, life-lessons are learned through hardship and pain. When a parent walks away, the child learns. When parents separate, their children learn. When a child is ignored, raised by a single parent or not raised at all he or she learns. When the father or mother is often gone or absent entirely, the child learns. When parents don’t get along, when they’re often fighting, blaming or cursing, when they abdicate their responsibility to promote the child’s well-being, he or she learns. When a parent has a negative view of life, people and the world, the child carries it with him or her into adulthood, sometimes working hard to counter that perspective. Lessons learned in these contexts often play out in adult behaviors commonly reported in the news—domestic abuse, mental illness, suicide, murder, crime, corruption, depression, uncontrollable anger, drug and alcohol abuse.

Due to the Coronavirus, many parents home-schooled their children or participated in other ways that required more frequent interaction. Whatever the context, I appreciate those parents and teachers, some of whom were profiled in the media, people who understood that a child’s education doesn’t begin and end at the school door or the opening and closing of online lessons. The critically important source for early learning is neither the school nor the curriculum, but the modeling of speech, experiences and behaviors that go on at home and in the neighborhood.

So here’s a tip of the hat to those who are aware of and accepting the challenge of providing a learning environment that’s rich with caring, kindness, respect, compassion, patience, etc., parents and children who worked together to discover the best ways to manage life in the pandemic—and afterward. 

Whatever the circumstances, a good place to find guidance and inspiration is with my daughter’s book: Confident Parents, Confident Kids. (2) In it, she addresses the key question: What do you want for your kids? Given the insight above and her analysis of responses to her question, I would ask a corollary question. What kind of person do I want my child to be? Whatever the qualities, because a parent is the child’s first and most significant teacher, the solution is to strive to be that person. 

If you bungle raising your children, I don’t think whatever else you do matters very much.

Jackie Kennedy

1. Blau, L. (2017) What Are the Essential Characteristics of a Good Parent? Hello Motherhood, June, 13, 2017.

2. Miller, J. (2019) Confident Parents, Confident Kids: Raising Emotional Intelligence in Ourselves and Our Kids—from Toddlers to Teenagers. Beverly, MA: Fair Winds Press.


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