Role Model the Behavior You Want to See From Your Kids

What you do is much more important than what you say.

Your child will copy what you do so it's important to be a good role model.
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Your children are always watching what you do. They see how you handle stress. They watch how you treat other people. They observe how you deal with your feelings.

They soak in all that information like little sponges. So even when you think your child isn't paying attention, it's essential to be a positive role model for your child.

Social Learning Theory and Modeling

According to the Social Learning Theory, people learn by watching others. The famous Bo-Bo doll experiment demonstrated how kids imitate adult behavior. Researchers discovered that children treated the doll the same way the adults did.

Children who watched an adult become aggressive with an inflatable doll became aggressive in their interactions with the doll. Children who watched adults treat the doll kindly, did the same.

You certainly don’t need a fancy science experiment however to prove that kids imitate their parents. When you're sweeping the floor, you might notice your child pretending to sweep too. Or, you might hear your child put her stuffed bear to bed the same way you tuck her in at night.

Kids repeat what they hear and they imitate what they see.

Beware of Accidentally Role Modeling Bad Behavior

Sometimes, you might unknowingly role model a few unhealthy behaviors for your kids. Here are a few examples of ways parents teach kids bad habits: 

  • A mother tells the cashier at a restaurant her 12-year-old son is only 11 so he can she can get a discount at the buffet so he son learns it's OK to lie sometimes.
  • A father spends his evenings watching TV but tells his 14-year-old daughter she should read more.
  • Parents tell their kids to treat everyone with respect yet they often make critical comments the appearance of people who appear on the news.
  • A divorced couple argues frequently about custody issues and visitation but expect the kids to get along with one another.
  • A parent tells her son to stop putting his fingers in his mouth, but when she's nervous, she bites her fingernails.
  • A mother tells her daughter to be kind to others but she yells at the store clerk when the store refuses to take back an item she had hoped to return.
  • A father tells his kids that they should eat healthy but he sneaks dessert after they go to bed and doesn’t exercise.
  • Parents tell their kids to share and be generous with what they have yet they don’t get involved in any sort of charity or volunteer work.
  • A father smokes cigarettes and while he has a cigarette in his hand, he tells his kids that smoking is bad and they should never pick up the bad habit.
  • Parents tell their kids to take responsibility for their behavior yet when they forget about their child’s dentist appointment, they argue with the receptionist and tell her she clearly made a scheduling error.

Follow Your Own Rules

It’s really hard to model appropriate behavior for your kids all the time. However, you have opportunities every day to provide your kids with learning experiences so they can see how to behave appropriately.

Although you may find opportunities that you think are appropriate to bend the rules a little, kids aren’t able to do this. For example, if you tell a “little white lie” by telling your friend you can’t help her move because you “have a headache” but you go to another social engagement instead, your kids will learn that lying is acceptable.

Show your kids how to follow your household rules. Use discipline that teaches life skills and explain how the rules will help them later in life. If you show kids that you honor the rules, it will increase the effectiveness of your discipline strategies.

Explain Exceptions to the Rule

There may be instances where you need to explain your values to your kids. If your friend baked you a cake and you didn't eat it because it tasted bad, you might still tell her it was delicious. If that's the case, you'll want to explain to your child that it's important to be kind to people.

Model New Skills

When you want to teach your child something new, whether it's how to make his bed or how to tie his shoes, show him how you do it. Then, let him practice it on his own. Showing, rather than telling, can be the best way for kids to learn a variety of new skills.

Pay attention to social and emotional skills too. Show your child how to greet someone and how to manage emotions, like frustration or sadness.

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