Do As I Say... And Do! 10 Ways Black Parents Can Lead by Example in Daily Life

Many Black parents teach children to respect the rules we set, but making sure our words align with them can be difficult. Here's how to make it all work.

Father teaches children how to play instruments.

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Children learn many lessons through mimicry and observation versus being verbally told what to do or how to act. The command, ‘Do as I say, not as I do,’ never felt right as a child, and it certainly still brings pause to many parents today. But each new generation of parents learns more than the previous generation and collectively works to do better. Here are ten ways to upgrade our parenting skills and lead our children by example through everyday actions and activities. It’s an especially important goal in the new year.

01 of 10

Get Outside and Play

It’s the weekend and you hear the dreaded words ”I’m bored!” The next time boredom creeps into your home, head outside as a family and move your bodies!

Take a walk and make it an interactive nature hunt by collecting nature items along the way. Ride bikes, play tag, or draw a hopscotch court with sidewalk chalk. Visit a local farmer’s market to teach kids about nutrition and take a few items home to try a new recipe together.

Schedule at least one leisure family day a week and engage in activities everyone can enjoy. Hot or cold, rain or shine, dress for the season, and enjoy a little vitamin D as a family.

02 of 10

Pick up a New Hobby

Childhood is limitless when it comes to creativity and play time but somewhere along the way to adulthood, we may begin to invest time into new hobbies.

Challenge yourself to learn something new or pick up an old favorite pastime. Instead of spending hours watching television, start reading a new book or finishing an old one.

Always wanted to try crocheting? Now is the time. Family hobbies are great, too. Try a new board game or puzzles together. Test a new tasty recipe for dessert. Whatever the hobby, have fun!

03 of 10

Practice Conflict Resolution

Disagreements are a part of every relationship, even the healthiest ones. Whether it’s an argument between siblings, adults, or even a parent and child, children model the behaviors they observe, so we must equip them with practical tools for conflict resolution.

“Start by listening to your children. “Give them autonomy of self and empower them to communicate their differences respectfully," says Dr. Cindy Duke, M.D., Ph.D., FACOG and America’s only dual fertility expert & virologist. In addition to being an accomplished physician, Dr. Duke is a podcaster and motivational speaker who discusses issues relating to life, health, and female empowerment.

“Historically, colonialism created a more docile child in the Black community,” she says. “We are learning to undo the trauma, and that starts by giving our children the power of language.”  

04 of 10

Be Honest and Accountable

We aren’t saying you must tell your children about the extra cookie you enjoyed after they went to bed. We do, however, believe that honesty is the best policy when it comes to building trust. While they may not like it, telling your child that you can’t or won’t be able to attend their event is more critical than not showing up and catching them off guard.

Direct and honest communication is the best way to build trust between parent and child, starting in the early years. And while we do our best to be impeccable with our word, plans change, and our best intentions can fall flat. Gently explain what happened, give yourself a generous serving of grace, and show up big next time!

05 of 10

Be Kind to Yourself

If life was only filled with successes and wins, it would be much easier to navigate. Watching a child meltdown out of frustration can be equally frustrating as a parent but we often forget how important it is to manage our frustrations. Onyi Azih is a practicing psychiatric physician assistant, entrepreneur, and mom with a professional and personal mission to normalize the conversations around mental health.

“As a mental health professional, mother, and a Black woman, I am on a journey of self-help and nurturing, and I’m taking my patients and children along with me.” she says. Recite positive affirmations with your children as a reminder that you are worthy of love, greatness self-praise. “We teach our children to be kind to themselves,” says Azih, “but it’s an important lesson for parents, too.” 

06 of 10

Show Gratitude

It doesn’t have to be Thanksgiving to show others you’re thankful. Reminding children to say please and thank you is a daily duty for parents. Our actions are just as necessary as words, so let’s show our children how to exemplify gratitude. Write a letter or draw a picture for a loved one.

Be specific when depicting your appreciation and remember—big or small, every act of kindness is worthy of a thank you. You can also use mealtime as an opportunity to share why you’re thankful for each family member.

07 of 10

Get More Rest

At a certain age, children begin to protest the idea of sleep. If only they knew they’d be begging for a little shut-eye in their later years. Even if you can’t convince your children actually to fall asleep for nap time, slowing our bodies and minds down can help us reset. When it is time to rest, turn off the lights and lie down for at least 30 minutes. Dr. Duke is an advocate for resetting our bodies for optimal health.

“Every part of our body and mind work together – from head to toe. At any age, we must quiet our busy brains and allow our bodies to do some internal housekeeping,” she says. 

Accompany your quiet time with soft music and if a little more time is needed (mainly for the parent!) then invite your children to play with quiet toys for another half hour. Remember—rest is not a punishment! It’s an opportunity to fuel our body with energy to get through the rest of the day.

08 of 10

Talk About Your Feelings

This is arguably the paramount item on our list. Children experience the world and its complexities from a young age. While much of their experiences can be exciting, other engagements may be overwhelming or upsetting. However, children aren’t born knowing how to articulate their feelings, so it’s up to their trusted caretakers to teach them. 

Normalize emotions by talking to your children about your own. Perhaps you had a frustrating day at work or an emotionally taxing interaction with a loved one. Or maybe you’re just tired and feeling annoyed more than usual. Please talk about your feelings using descriptive words then invite your little feeler to share some of their emotions.

Happy, sad, or mad—feelings are meant to be felt at any age.

09 of 10

Drink More Water

Parent are constantly reminding their children to take drink water, usually refilling sippy cups and water bottles from sun up to bedtime. Yet somehow, we forget to hydrate our own bodies! Instead of telling them, show them!

“Generally, we don’t crave water unless we are dehydrated,“ says Dr. Duke, “so set a timer to remind yourself!” When you hand your child their newly chilled cup of water, don’t forget to grab a glass for yourself.

Take a few mindful sips with your children before the next adventure!

10 of 10

Give Yourself Grace

To cover all of the responsibilities of a parent, we must also serve as teachers, leaders, chefs, chauffeurs, and referees—and sometimes all at once! Azih reminds us to do our best and give ourselves grace along the way. “Parenting is not about perfection. It’s about being present and enjoying the moments.” 

Parents give so much of themselves to ensure their children stay safe, happy, and supported but sometimes, we misstep. After a long day, we may be overly stimulated and quick to anger. Playing 30 rounds of “I Spy” at dinnertime is simply asking for too much after a full day of adulting. 

“We are programmed to think that we have to be superhuman at work, in our partnerships, as a parent, truly at every level of life,” says Dr. Duke. “This is how we end up isolated and feeling abandoned. Give people the grace, including yourself, and know that you are a super awesome human being.” 

Remind yourself that it is OK to feel too depleted to engage at the level your child needs, and ask for help if you need it. Take a deep breath, even a 5-minute break, if you can sneak away, and tell yourself, “I am doing my best.”

Then, get back into the parenting game, and finish strong!

Being a parent means being a leader. If we expect our children to evolve into well-balanced adults, then we must model the behaviors we ask of them. Each day, there are moments to teach our children that we are perfectly imperfect but always trying to do our best. In some cases, this is easier said than done but, in the end, good intentions and guidance go a very long way.

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