Looking Back

The Behavior I Wish I Modeled For My Kids Sooner, According To 10 Dads

You’re your kids’ best example. There’s no better time to start showing them why.

Kids are always watching. You can tell them to be kind or have more patience or that “we only interrupt in this house when it’s absolutely necessary” as many times as you want but if you don’t model the behavior yourself, it’s going to be nearly impossible to make it stick. You probably know all of this already, but it bears repeating because children think that you’re the perfect example of, well, everything and the whole do what I say, not what I do thing doesn’t really work. Sure, you’ll contradict yourself thousands of times when parenting because of course you will. That’s the nature of the gig. But practicing what you preach — that is, using your actions to demonstrate the values and skills you want to pass down — remains incredibly important and it applies as much to trying to stay calm in stressful circumstances as it does to teaching a kid how to tie their shoes.

The thing is, most of what you wish you modeled more often for your kids or thought you did but actually didn’t appears only in hindsight after you see them repeat the behavior. So, to offer some help, we reached out to 10 dads across about the behavior they wish they modeled more often for their kids. From being more flexible to dealing with failure better to saying no and setting boundaries more often, they touched on a variety of subjects. Here’s what they said.

1. How To Stay Calm

“As a father to two children, I have learned the importance of staying calm and patient when dealing with them. I wish I had modeled this behavior sooner, as it would have made parenting much easier. By staying calm and patient, I am able to be more understanding of my children and their emotions. This has allowed us to have more meaningful conversations and build a stronger connection. I also believe that this behavior will help my children be more understanding of the world around them, and be better equipped to handle difficult situations with grace. Modeling this behavior for my children has been one of the most rewarding parenting experiences I have had, and I regret not realizing the impact sooner.” - Jaden, 38, Singapore

2. How To Be Flexible

"’Show me a man's greatest strength, and I'll show you his greatest weakness’ is a quote I’ve come to appreciate over the years. I am efficient, organized, and driven. These qualities have helped me create consistent daily routines for my children. I know how to plan and make sure things go smoothly. But that strength can also turn into a big weakness. When things don't go according to my plan, it frustrates me, which shows up in how I communicate. I've created haste and anxiety in our home that's completely unnecessary. A few years ago, I started paying better attention to how my kids were imitating this behavior. I started taking ownership of it and began modeling to my kids what it looks like to slow down. I want them to know the benefits of being organized but also the benefits of being flexible. I wish I had caught on to this sooner because I can already see a shift in the culture of our home.” - Ben 35, Arkansas

3. How To Be Consistent

“I’m far from a perfect parent, but I’ve done my best. The thing I’m working on now — and the thing I wish I’d been able to model sooner for my kids — is consistency. I had a Dad who gave me basically whatever I wanted, but he was a traveling jeweler. The only thing I could count on being consistent was the fact that he was most likely not going to be around most of the time. I’m not always consistent, which means that I have to learn new ways to communicate with my kids to get them to listen. I love being a dad, and I want my kids to be proud of me someday as I am of them. I know that with consistency and them learning that from me now, that they can take it and apply it to their own lives later on. - Josh, 32, Arizona

4. How To Bite My Tongue

“One thing I wish I had done sooner is biting my tongue when someone frustrates me. Despite spending more time with my wife during the day, my kids often pick up on my words and actions, for better or for worse. As dads, our words carry significant weight, and it can be easy to let out a frustrated word or comment when someone cuts us off on the highway or when an athlete makes a bad play during a game. But when children hear us speaking in that way, they may think it's normal to speak that way, when in fact it's not. I want to be a positive role model for my children, and that starts with being mindful of the words I use and the actions I take. In situations where there's nothing good to say, it's best to stay silent. I want to be sure that my words are always positive when I speak them, and that's something I wish I had modeled sooner for my kids.” - Josh, 33, Leeds, England

5. How To Persevere

“I’m a father of two boys — aged 5 and 10 — and also a lifelong fisherman. I have always been passionate about fishing, and have shared this passion with my kids. They have learned to love fishing as much as I do, and it has been a great bonding experience for us. However, fishing is not just about catching fish. It's also about patience, perseverance, and understanding the natural world around us, and I never really took the time to teach them that. As a result, my kids would get frustrated when they didn't catch a fish, and they would give up too soon. Patience and perseverance aren’t just essential for fishing, but also for life. I think that if I’d modeled that lesson more often my kids might have a more positive attitude toward fishing, of course, but also life in general.” - Steven, 38, Shangzhou, China

6. How To Be Selfless

“The behavior I should have changed sooner is my selfishness. Looking back, I see large parts of my life where I was mostly thinking of myself and my needs. I had trouble viewing the world from anyone else’s eyes. A big loss in my family shook my perspective, and I realized — through a lot of therapy — that my behavior patterns weren’t what I wanted them to be. More importantly, they weren’t what I wanted my kids to see and start copying. I started realizing what my family was trying to tell me for the longest time and I got to face my selfishness and finally let go of it. And in the process I realized how much kids actually do admire their parents, which is a good thing.” - Joseph, 36, California

7. How To Interrupt Properly

“One practice/rule/behavior that I’ve implemented recently that I wish I did much sooner is what I call the ‘interruption rule’. This very quickly fixed what we called ‘interruptitus’ — interrupting rudely, instead of ineffectively — which many kids have. Adults too. The rule works like this: When two adults are talking and a child needs to interrupt, they simply put their hand on their parents arm or shoulder. The parent then acknowledges that the child has something to say by placing their hand back on the child's hand. By modeling this, our kids have learned not to rudely interrupt two adults when they are talking, but also that they are not being ignored and that what they have to say will be heard shortly. By doing this, they honor others and gain patience and trust that their needs will be met. If I’d known how valuable it would be, I would’ve started much, much sooner.” - Shawn, 41, Kentucky

8. How To Love Books

“I found the joy of reading later in life and it's made a profound impact. My parents never read much or pushed my brothers and I to read much as kids, so I never understood how much knowledge and wisdom was really contained in books. I read a lot to this day, but on a tablet or reader and I think when a child sees you with a tablet it can seem that you are idling spending time on social media. I think it's important to read physical books because it mirrors the books you read to your kids at bedtime and it becomes an artifact of knowledge on your bookshelf to remind them..” - Casey, 40, Oregon

9. How To Ignore The Dumb Stuff

“I would say that I would have worried a lot less and rolled with the punches a lot more. Not that I was ever overly impatient or high strung, but I would have worried less about stupid stuff in the moment, like dumb minor inconveniences or whatever, and just enjoyed the ride a lot more often. Because I can’t remember anything that I got upset about now, and the ride is over way too fast. So when I see the boys get annoyed about something now or frustrated in the movement, I try and tell them what I wish someone had told me, ‘This doesn’t matter in the long run and it will all work out in the end.’” - Jeremy, 50, New York

10. How To Say “No”

“I’ve always been a people pleaser, and that’s how my kids knew me while they were growing up. I rarely, if ever, refused to sacrifice my time, money, or energy if someone needed help. And I don’t regret that, but I wish I’d tempered it with more boundaries for my own sake, and the sake of my kids. They’ve become pushovers, and I think that’s because they saw their dad as one growing up. I’ve always struggled with boundaries, because I genuinely want to help, like, everyone. And I love that my kids do, too. But I think it would’ve been an even more meaningful lesson if I’d been able to also show them it’s okay to take care of yourself. ‘You can’t pour from an empty cup’ is what my wife always told me. It wasn’t until I saw how closely my kids mirrored my behavior that it kind of clicked.” — Taylor, 44, Auckland, New Zealand