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What Did Your Parents Teach You?

what did your parents teachWhat teachings did your parents offer you in your childhood and teen years? Be mindful as you answer that question of the spoken and unspoken teachings and messages that were given to you and what you received.

Let us first consider the spoken teachings from your parents or primary caregivers. The elements necessary to parent a child well are multi-faceted and require consistent love and effort on the parents’ part. The parents’ attitude and energy level also must be considered. The parents’ history and background are factors in how well or effectively they teach by word and example.

Some spoken teachings between parent and child may include (but are not limited to) basic needs such as learning self-care habits. Study habits, moral and ethical principles, and religious or spiritual lessons also are often taught at home, capturing the parents’ views or perhaps inviting the growing child’s views into the conversation.

Primary socialization originates within the family relationships in childhood and adolescence. Belonging to a nuclear family provides this initial learning, as members of a group with relationships and roles. Secondary socialization occurs throughout one’s lifetime through interaction with groups and individuals outside of the family. Spoken teachings can extend to discussions of outer friendships and love relationships when learning how to create, sustain, and cope with them.

In some families, lessons about navigating the world exist within the family system. Subjects may include careers, money management, dating, and choosing future life partners. In other families, these lessons are not taught and the children learn on their own when they become adults. Keep in mind that parents may not have skills in all areas so the child must eventually decide what kind of adult and potential future parent they want and choose to be.

Unspoken teachings from a parent to a child are illustrated by behavior, typically when consistent, which can be active or passive in any of the life skills areas. The focus and attitude a parent carries and displays, whether verbal or nonverbal, speak loudly to a child. Children pick up on subtle cues, particularly when there is an emotional component being expressed by the parent or received by the child.

Overtly strong, harsh, negating, or rejecting messages that affect a child’s self-esteem, place in the family, and subsequent presence in the world also hold much weight. In families where dialogue is not inherently natural within the system, particularly when a parent is uncomfortable or unskilled in discussing all subjects, the child learns to shut down or goes elsewhere to learn those life lessons. Girls and boys learn how to be women and men by watching same-sex parents.

Take this short survey:

  • Do you feel that your parents taught you the basic, necessary skills you need now?
  • Of all that your parents taught you, which lessons or skills are you most grateful for?
  • What areas or subjects did your parents not teach you or adequately prepare you for?
  • If you are a parent, what areas or life skills are you comfortable with and skilled at teaching?
  • How do you feel about what your parents taught or didn’t teach you?
  • Do you follow your parents’ teachings and can you learn new skills now?
  • What subject range and skills do you possess that your parents did not when raising you?
  • What lessons have you learned (and continue to learn) away from your family of origin?
  • If your parents are still alive, can you thank them for what they taught you? If they are no longer alive, can you write a thank-you letter for yourself to acknowledge them?
  • What areas of yourself and your life are you willing to continue to learn about?

Take some time to acknowledge your roots and what has served to help you blossom and thrive. Personal identity, group belonging, and finding one’s place in the world are born from these beginnings. Who you are is a constant and who you strive to become is entirely up to you as your life unfolds. You are the master artist of your life’s masterpiece, so take the best and leave the rest as you walk onward.

What Did Your Parents Teach You?

Nina Sidell, MA

Nina Sidell, M.A. is a psychotherapist, life coach, and speaker with over twenty-five years in private practice. She is the author of The Mom’s Choice award-winning book, Parenting for Life. Parenting for Life is available on Amazon Us, Amazon Europe, Create, Space, Kindle, and Barnes and Noble.

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APA Reference
Sidell, N. (2018). What Did Your Parents Teach You?. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 26, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 2 Sep 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.