Q. You often mention that parents need to be role models for our children. Exactly what behaviors and values do you believe we need to model?
A. Being a good parental role model is important, because children mimic what they see and hear. This is sometimes called observational learning. While children have models all around them, parents are their main source of behaviors to imitate. When I was administrator of the children and adolescent units at a private psychiatric hospital, children were admitted with objectionable behaviors that we could soon identity in their parents. Yelling, cursing, lying, failure to take responsibility for actions and failure to calm down and problem-solve can be seen in children of parents who demonstrate these behaviors.
To answer your question, I’ll suggest the following important behaviors:
- Honesty. Admit when you break something or make a mistake. Show that nothing extreme happens when you’re honest. Don’t cheat others and brag about it. When you get too much change back from a purchase, be honest and help correct the mistake.
- Sharing with others. Point out when someone shares with you, as in, “Thank you, Daddy, for sharing.” Point out that sharing makes you appreciate something more. For example, my mother told me that candy bars taste better when you share them. I think they do.
- Good manners. Model the use of words like “please” and “thank you.” Instruct children to use these words. Thank-you notes from children to people who have given a gift reinforces good manners. Teach table manners. When children have good manners they can be invited to more places and not embarrass themselves or you.
- Ability to face problems calmly. You can admit to a child that you are upset, but show that you know how to calm down. You can even ask your child to help you take a few deep breaths to calm down.
- Identifying feelings. Children need to learn to identify their feelings, and you can model this. On the web, you can find charts with faces that show different feelings. Younger children often do better with these charts until you help them find the words.
- Use of a problem-solving mode. The schools teach problem-solving methods, but it’s good to start early at home and show that problem-solving is a helpful skill.
- Use of a calm voice. When a child does something that you object to or breaks the rules, it doesn’t help to yell. Yelling teaches a child that when you don’t like something, you should yell and that yelling anytime and anywhere is alright.
- The importance of listening. Sometimes kids talk a lot and don’t realize that listening is important to learning. Even kids who hardly talk may not be listening. Ask kids to repeat back to you something you said and repeat back to them things they have said to see if you each understand what the other is saying.
- Taking care of yourself. Use good hygiene, eat nutritious foods and get enough sleep.
- Love of reading and learning. Children who see parents reading and experience having books read to them will be likely to mimic this behavior. Reading is key to a child’s success in school.
I could go on with other behaviors: resilience, empathy, humility, independence and courage.
When I read Mother’s Day and Father’s Day messages from grown children on social media, I’m amazed at how many mention what their parents taught them. Kids who really tested their parents grew up to be people modeling good behaviors for their own kids.
Betty Richardson, PhD, RNC, LPC, LMFT, is an Austin-based psychotherapist.