University of Illinois Extension

What You Say and Do Really Matters

Kay Mayberry, Family Life Educator

It is natural for you to want your grandchildren to be moral, knowing right from wrong. You probably also want them to be caring, friendly, compassionate, outgoing, loyal, honest, trustworthy, and responsible. In other words, you want them to know that who they are and what they do really matter. Raising grandchildren in today's world can require tremendous courage.

Building good character in your grandchildren begins in your home. Character, as defined by the Josephson Institute of Ethics, is revealed by how you behave when you think no one is looking. One of the biggest influences in your grandchildren's lives is the example you set. Sayings such as "practice what you preach," "walk your talk," and "actions speak louder than words" can be important expressions when teaching character in the home. Of course you are not expected to lead a perfect life, but your grandchildren need to know that you are genuine in the way you live. This involves both role modeling and direct teaching. What they observe in your behavior is the role modeling or indirect teaching. What they hear you say about what you believe and the reasons for your behavior are part of direct teaching. For example, hearing you say, "telling the truth is important," is one thing. But, seeing you consistently tell the truth leaves a lasting impression.

Good character will only be important to your grandchildren if it is important to you. If what you say and what you do are different, your grandchildren can become confused.

You can model good character whether you are at home, on the job, or doing community service. In order to send a clear message to your grandchildren, you need to apply good character traits in even the smallest, least significant situations.

And when you make a character mistake, act the way you want your grandchildren to behave when they make a mistake.

The Josephson Institute says that this includes being accountable for your actions, apologizing sincerely, and resolving to do better. In other words, when you make a mistake, admit it. Your grandchildren will respect you for your honesty. Role modeling can be the most powerful, unspoken message that you give your grandchildren. Remember, teaching occurs whether or not you are conscious of the messages you send.