A few years ago, my wife bought a strip of white fabric, attached it to a stick, and each family member dipped their hands in paint and left a handprint on it. Then she wrote, “Go Team Edwards” and it became our family flag.
Now keep in mind, I gave this whole endeavor a pretty epic eye roll. I’m not usually one for those kinds of things. Perhaps it’s because I was a little too counter-culture growing up. Or maybe it was because it reminded me of my mother who used to sing the Mormon hymn “Love At Home” every time there was a sibling argument. I hated that so much, and yet, it is etched in my brain forever.
But you know, my kids love the family flag, regardless of how I originally felt about it. At one point or another, each of my children has run down the hallway holding that flag and screaming “Go Team Edwards.”
I don’t know if it was meant to be our family motto. I don’t think that was our original intention. In fact, thinking back, I believe the flag was part of some joy school assignment Mel found in a book. But now, several years later, it has taken on a whole new meaning.
When the kids are feeling down, Mel will swoop in with a “Go Team Edwards.” When the kids are complaining about cleaning up, or frustrated with school, or not getting as much playing time on a sports team as they would like, Mel says, “Go Team Edwards.”
Naturally, my children roll their eyes, the same way I did when we first made the flag. But I must admit, something changes in them, and they do start to team up. They smile slightly, realizing that they are not alone, but part of a family. The whole phrase has become this mantra reminding us that we do actually care about each other, and that we are part of a whole, and no one is alone in their struggles.
As it turns out, there is a psychology behind what we are doing (who knew?). According to a recent article in Real Simple, “Passing down important life lessons to our children starts with saying the same few phrases over and over and over again. Ready, set, repeat.”
We all remember our parents’ little pearls of wisdom, right? Phrases like, “Make a decision and make it work” or “Measure twice, cut once” or “If you are going to do something stupid, don’t get caught.” Repeating simple phrases, or mottos, to your children is a way to… wait for it… get them to listen.
If you are like me, you probably often wonder if your children have some genetic condition that causes them to filter out your voice. Right now, I am my children’s boss. And to be honest, I hate the idea of them growing up to tune out what anyone in authority says. But sometimes, when I am literally three inches from their ears and they don’t hear a word I’m saying, I wonder if their future involves being fired for tuning out their boss.
I also want them to grow up to become adults who value others, understand work ethic and team work, and are willing to stand up for the little person.
As it turns out, although your children act like they aren’t listening, they are — and in an important way, no less. By repeating the same pearls of wisdom — and making sure that they are tight and to the point — we can have a big impact.
Psychologist Zelana Montminy, and the author of 21 Days to Resilience, told Real Simple, “Thinking about what our kids are hearing and being deliberate about what we say to them are key to shaping who they will become… There are neural connections that form in the brain when we learn something new. The more repetitive something is, the less energy is needed to create those crucial connections—meaning it’s easier to learn.”
Basically what she is saying is, although your children don’t act like they are listening, by repeating a family motto, you are actually rewiring their brain. Oh, the power!
So how do we do we make sure our family mottos will have an impact? Here are a few tips from Dr. Montminy: First, be sure to frame your mottos in a positive way. “Our brain tends to go into shutdown mode and be less receptive when we feel attacked or hurt,” Dr. Montminy explains. So, for example, saying “Hard word pays off in the end” is better than negatives like “Get your crap together, or else.”
Second, it’s important to make sure the family motto is short and simple. Don’t go on a long tirade listing all the ways your children might be dishonest, but rather something simple like “We value honesty.”
Lastly, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. If a phrase like your parents used worked for you, give it a shot. If something stands out from a movie or a book, use it. When it comes to teaching your children work ethic and values, it’s okay to beg, borrow, and steal. Trust me.
I can say with confidence that all parents want their children to grow up to be the best humans they can be. And while repeating the same phrases over and over again might make you feel like you’ve become your parents, the reality is you have. We all have. And it turns out there is probably a psychological reason all parents have been repeating nuggets of wisdom over and over.
I can’t speak for everyone, but I’m going to build on our family motto and even though my children act like they aren’t listening, I’ll hope that maybe they are. You might want to do the same.