8 things we tell kids, but should listen to ourselves

dad and daughter
Public Domain MaxPixel

Lessons from our parents hold value even in adulthood.

"Stop complaining!" "Eat your vegetables!" "Mind your own business!" Every parent has an arsenal of phrases that they can whip out at key times to remind a kid of proper behavior. These are valuable mini lessons that most of us heard as children (and probably hated), but now use with our own offspring. But what if we started using them on ourselves? Even as adults, we could benefit from paying close attention to what these phrases mean.

This is the gist of a smart article called "15 Things We Like to Tell Kids (That We Don’t Listen to Ourselves)" by Matt of Method to Your Money. After seeing someone post on Twitter, "You get what you get, and you don't get upset," he wrote,

"You know that feeling you get when you have to eat your own words and chow down on humble pie? I had used those exact words with my own kids on a daily basis, but knew I hadn’t always practiced what I’d preached... If we’re going to give advice to kids and actually expect them to take it, we should be living that advice out ourselves. After all, more is CAUGHT than is TAUGHT!"

So, which kid-friendly phrases could improve our adult lives in a variety of ways, from physical health and personal relationships to financial responsibility and environmental stewardship? Let's start with the ones I mentioned above.

1. Stop complaining.

I say this multiple times a day to my kids because I want them to be optimists, cheerful, capable of handling any situation without succumbing to self-pity. And yet, there are countless occasions when I succumb to negativity, complaining about everything from the weather to having to wait at a stoplight to feeling tired. This inhibits my ability to see the good in each day, and also to stay focused on what I can do to improve my situation. It's particularly relevant when fighting the seemingly insurmountable challenge that climate change poses. Complaining about it won't get us anywhere; action will.

2. Eat your vegetables.

Remember when you had to finish your broccoli before you got any dessert? One of the fun aspects of adulthood is being able to eat whatever and whenever you want, but too often this can degrade into unhealthy eating habits that are driven by cravings, rather than meeting nutritional needs. Take a page out of your parents' book and prioritize whole, fresh, seasonal foods before indulging in anything sweet.

3. Worry about yourself, not others.

My kids have a bad habit of arguing when they're assigned a task, fretting about how it compares to their sibling's. I often repeat the above phrase, reminding them that it doesn't matter, that all they need to do is focus on themselves and put forward their best possible effort. The same applies to adults. We spend a disproportionate amount of time "keeping up with the Joneses," driving personal consumption that is damaging to the environment and to our wallets. Forget about comparing yourself to others and "be happy with what you have" (another one!).

4. You'll thank me for this someday.

This annoying yet accurate phrase is likely familiar to most, reminding us of the uncomfortable or unpleasant tasks we had to perform as children because they contained valuable lessons. Adulthood, on the other hand, is often perceived as a time of relative freedom, when one can do whatever one wants without following strict rules. But what if we went back to some of those rules, acknowledging that temporary discomfort can lead to long-term gain? Think of piggy banks, gym class, early bedtimes, daily recess and instrument practice, etc. These all have beneficial adult equivalents.

5. Money doesn't grow on trees.

Or, "We can't afford that." Adults, however, have access to credit, which means we don't say that often enough because we assume it'll get paid off over time. What if we returned to a more cash-based economy where we save up for purchases -- and don't make them if we don't have the money in a bank account? I bet stress levels and work hours would be much reduced, as would resource consumption and trash creation.

6. Have you done your homework?

A bit of research can put you miles ahead. In the article that inspired this one, which looks at these phrases through a financial lens, writer Matt asks three homework-related questions:
- Do you know how much you’re paying in interest on your debt?
- How much are your investment fees?
- Do you know how much you’ll need to retire?

If you don't know that answers to these, get studying.

7. Think of the starving children.

I always hated this phrase as a kid because it made no sense. Nobody was going to mail my cold mashed potatoes overseas for a hungry kid to eat, but what I've realized since is that the underlying message is to be grateful for what I have and not to take anything for granted. After writing for TreeHugger for so many years, I'd also interpret this literally, as a reminder not to waste food, which is a colossal problem and squandering of resources.

8. Think before you act.

Kids are notorious for acting without thinking, but adults do it too -- except they aren't hauled off for punishment afterward. All too often we fail to think through the full consequences of our actions, whether it's impulsive purchases of luxury goods, careless behavior that alienates friends or harms the environment, or poor dietary choices that accumulate over time and affect personal health. It's important to think through one's decisions, or, as the trendy catch-phrase goes, to "live mindfully."

8 things we tell kids, but should listen to ourselves
Lessons from our parents hold value even in adulthood.

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