Parents as Role Models 

September 5, 2013

Are you a role model for your child? Parenting can be tough, but one of the most basic ways we can raise our children is simply by being a good role model for them.

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How does a parent become a role model?
You’re already a role model for your child. Every time you say something, take an action or have a reaction to someone or something, your child is observing your behavior. As infants, this is how children gain language skills and eventually learn to talk. Preschoolers depend upon observation as they begin to understand and test the workings of interpersonal relationships. And even teenagers—although you might not believe it!—are listening to your words and observing your actions, examining how you handle everything from personal relationships to stress to career disappointments.

So whether you like it or not, you’re already a role model. The real challenge for parents is to provide a positive example as often as possible.

Do parents have to be “perfect”?
“Parent by example“ is probably the best, simplest and most all-encompassing parenting advice you will ever get. But it’s not always easy…we all have days when we argue with a family member or say something we know we’ll regret later. The simple truth is none of us are perfect, and we will certainly do something some day that we wish our child hadn’t heard or seen.

Your actions after a misstep like this are just as important as your initial actions. It’s moments like these that allow you to demonstrate such challenging emotions as forgiveness, humility and empathy. So the next time you aren’t the picture of parenting perfection, take a moment to step back and talk to your child about what just happened. If you’ve said something unkind to your spouse, for example, make sure your children can also hear you apologize and discuss the incident.

What types of behavior can I model for my child?
Whether you’re teaching an infant how to talk or struggling to communicate with your teenager, setting a positive example for your children is simply a fantastic way to draw the best out of them. Many of the most important ways to role model are things you already do every day—now it’s just time to realize your child is learning when they see you do these things:

1. Show RESPECT for others and yourself.
Think about how you talk about and treat your friends, family members, neighbors and even yourself. Would you say hello on the street to a stranger or hold a door for someone at the store? Your child is learning how to value other people and institutions by watching your example. This includes how you talk about school, so consider your words wisely when you’re discussing your child’s class, teacher or administrators.

Your child also takes cues on self-worth from you. Respect yourself and your child will follow your lead.

2. Practice positive COMMUNICATION skills.
Do you wish your child would talk to you more? Or choose to speak instead of scream? Consider your own use of words…do you use them to hurt, criticize or argue with others, even if it’s not your children? Words are a powerful thing. If you demonstrate how negative, hurtful and disrespectful language can be, your child will do the same.

Do you listen to your child without interrupting? Be mindful of how and when you communicate—give your child your complete attention and respect her thoughts. You are teaching her to do the same for you.

Is your child convinced he’s going to fail a class, not make the team or lose a friend? Consider the energy in your own family. Do you focus on the positive? Perhaps that negative outlook begins at home. The next time you make a mistake, like burning dinner, think before reacting. Then remember to laugh and suggest you feel lucky for the chance to order out. It’s often simple (and not so drastic) mistakes that become the best opportunities to model good behavior.

4. Teach the value of HEALTH.
Are you struggling to get your child to eat healthier foods or stop watching so much TV? You can’t expect them to do it on their own! Show them how! Sit down and share healthy meals and snacks with them, reduce your own TV time and plan outdoor activities you can do together, like a walk in the evening or a bike ride.

Is your child quick to lose his temper, throw a tantrum or cry out of frustration? How about you? Responding to stress, anger or hurt feelings is a valuable tool that you can model for your child. We live in a society that is fast-paced, demanding and stressful, and anger is a very natural reaction. The next time you are faced with a challenge, try to remain calm, take a deep breath and talk through the issue. If appropriate, talk to your child about what triggered your anger and how you dealt with it. Your child will learn to take a step back and think about his own reactions the next time he gets mad.

Keep this in mind: teaching by example is often easier and more effective than forcing children to obey rules by scaring, threatening, or tempting them with rewards. I think of the example of the mother who screams at her children to, “Stop yelling!” She might really want them to stop, but is she teaching them how to effectively communicate or just modeling the same bad behavior?

We’ve discussed five basic behaviors that parents can role model, but the possibilities are endless! And it’s not about being a perfect parent—rather, it’s about being mindful that your words and actions are being watched and absorbed by your children. This is a GOOD thing for us parents, because it means that every day we have a chance to help our children become great people.

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