Modelling the person you want to your child to be has to be one of the most fundamental things we can do as a parent. We might not appreciate why but we are clearly our childs biggest role model. Telling your child to be kind as you then mock someone with a disability is pointless. It’s thanks to these dynamics that most children grow up to exhibit the same behaviors as their parents. This makes careful and deliberate role modeling an important part of parenting.
The Importance of Parents as Role Models
With every year that passes, your child moves closer to becoming a functioning and productive member of society. What significantly aids this assimilation is the beliefs and values you instill in your child. One of the most effective ways to instill these values is by modeling them, thanks to the fact that children are built to over-imitate. The most important in this is the relationship that you may have with your partner. Abuse victims and perpetrators relationships often run down generations as they assume what they have seen is normal.
Research co-authored by Mark Nielsen, a psychologist at the University of Queensland in Australia, looked into parents as role models and the outcomes for their child. The research studied Australian preschoolers and Kalahari Bushman children and found that a particular kind of imitation — over-imitation, in which a child copies everything an adult shows them, appears to be a universal human activity. Scientists “have been finding this odd effect where children will copy everything that they see an adult demonstrate to them, even if there are clear or obvious reasons why those actions would be irrelevant,” says Nielsen.
This should not be surprising, look at families around you, the children will have similar religious and political beliefs, and even support the same teams as their parents. How often have yo met a rude child and then the parent and said, ‘that explains it’. So telling your child to get off their phone, as your face is stuck to Instagram is never going to work in the long run.
As children watch their parents, they tend to assume that there are reasons for their parents’ behaviors that aren’t immediately obvious to them. So they simply copy those behaviors, which in turn aids their development for better or for worse. This is why it is important to do things with your children, it enables them to see what is the norm.
Parents as role models is so effective and an important tool for parenting. It’s a surefire way to pass on the values you want in your child. Children will always look for role models, some of those on reality TV shows you may decide are not appropriate!
How To Be a Good Parental Role Model for Your Child
Parent’s modeling behaviors they want to see in their child is easier said than done. Parents are not perfect. They, too, have their own flaws, niggling behaviors that die hard. However, this doesn’t mean that they can’t model the healthier version of the behaviors they struggle with. Or more realistically have conversations with their children when they are not ‘perfect’. In the same way we can not expect our children to be. Below are strategies that can help parents be role models for their child, including those you struggle with.
- Follow your own rules. As a parent, you probably have some general house rules that help to control behavior at home. Some of these rules apply specifically to your children. But some of them are more broadly designed, meant to be adhered to by the household. As a parent, you need to adhere to those rules. This way, you’re showing your child that rules are meant to be followed. Don’t feel embarrassed to apologise to your child. If you expect them to do it, so should you. It is not easy so we have some help here.
- Say how you feel. Humans grapple with emotions throughout their lives. So children need to understand their feelings and work through them. This begins by giving them the language to identify and name their feelings. As a parent, the best way to do this is to talk about your emotions and also name and talk about your child’s emotions when the opportunity presents itself. You can also talk about your feelings with your spouse in front of your child. Learning how to talk to your child is important and we have some advice here.
- Evaluate yourself. No human is a paragon of perfection, so you must check in with yourself occasionally. This involves taking time at the end of each day to introspect. For example, typical introspective questions might include: how did you handle the rude cashier at the shopping mall in front of your child? What did you do when a cab driver mistakenly bumped into your car? Don’t be ashamed to talk to your child about it later and put your hand up when you weren’t the parental role model you wanted to be. If you are always telling your child to prioritize, are they seeing you leave things to the last minute?
- Open up your life. Many adults seal off their lives once they have children. As one might expect, there’s a logic to this. Parents fear their children might want to replicate their actions if they open up about some of their past misdeeds. Or lose the moral high ground to scold their children when they do something wrong. However your children will take great solace from that fact that you were not perfect and then will be more willing to try as there is less fear of failure. If you did not do well at school, explain why, and then why that behavior for you was self-defeating.
- Discuss behavioral adjustments. It’s not the end if your child already associates you with certain bad behaviors. You need to demonstrate your capacity for change by adjusting your behavior and then discussing it with your child. They might have gotten so used to the behavior that they may not notice when you quit. Also, explain why you’ve quit that behavior.
- Notice the good and reinforce It. Your child is bound to pick up some of those good behaviors you’ve been modeling. When you notice them behave well, reinforce it by praising the behavior. Also, when you see any bad behaviors, correct them and talk about them. In the child’s mind, this helps differentiate what’s acceptable and what’s not.
If you conclude that your response to any of the above scenarios left a little to be desired, don’t just wave it away. As an adult, you understand why your behavior was less than ideal, but your child doesn’t. So you need to talk to them about it. You could start by saying, “I realize that I shouldn’t have yelled at the cashier yesterday…” Then go ahead and tell the child why you shouldn’t have yelled.
Final Thoughts of Why Parents as Role Models Pays Off
It’s important to be consistent with your behavior as a parent. It is also impossible. You might sometime snap and other times Avoid modeling good behaviors in front of your child only to change when they’re not present. Try to be good because it’s the right way to live, not because you want to sell your child a front. They might find out, and it teaches the child that hypocrisy is okay.
In conclusion, you may see your child modeling other people’s behaviors, including their peers and celebrities. In such a scenario, avoid being judgemental or lecturing the child. Instead, ask questions, make the child aware of the negative consequences of such behaviors, and continue to reward and model good behaviors.
If you are interested, in this post we look at celebrity parenting styles.