Every step you take, every move you make, they are watching you
By JEAN SELVAM
In this current day and age, with the widespread use of social media, parents often assume that their children are being influenced by the outside world.
However, research suggests that more than 75% of children are role-modelling after people closer to home: their parents.
So parents, here is a scary thought: they’re watching you. From the time they are babies, your children are watching you and learning from you.
Parents are consistent and evolving role models not only through direct interaction with their children, but also by setting examples of attitude and behaviour in the family and with the outside world.
Another scary thought is that, even before your children reach schooling age, they’ve probably learned far more than you ever intended.
The greatest influence of all
Your children will adopt many of your values and types of behaviours. They will notice and respond to the way you deal with problems, express feelings and celebrate special occasions.
As a parent, it is impossible to avoid being a role model – your children will see your example, positive or negative, as a pattern for the way life is to be lived.
Role models are often subjects of admiration and emulation. Through personal qualities and achievements, role models inspire others to strive and develop without direct instruction.
But what does this all mean? Simply this: by sharing your lives with your children and maintaining a constructive perspective, you can be a good role model and contribute wonderfully to your child’s personal growth and development.
Easier said than done
In order to do be a good role model, parents have to take a closer look at how they live their own lives. This kind of self-examination can be extremely uncomfortable, but it is a valuable reflection for yourself, your children and ultimately for your entire family.
It is easy to dispense “don’ts” to your kids, such as “don’t smoke”, “don’t text and drive” or “don’t lie”, but it takes much more effort and discipline to practise what we preach.
The next question is, what important behaviours can a parent role model for the child? Here are three types of behaviours that all parents should be aware of and practise.
1. Showing respect for others and for yourself
Think about how you talk about and treat your friends, family members, neighbours and even yourself.
Would you say hello to the stranger on the street, or hold a door for someone at the store? Your child is learning how to value other people and institutions by watching your example.
Your child also takes cues on self-worth from you. Respect yourself and your child will follow your lead.
2. Practise 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, criticise or argue with others, even if it’s not with your children? Words are a powerful.
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 his or her thoughts. You are teaching them to do the same for you.
3. Maintain a positive outlook
Is your child convinced that he or she is 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 the simple (and not so drastic) mistakes that become the best opportunities to model good behaviour.
Simple but good
If you are feeling a sense of anxiety, discomfort or dread from reading the above list, do not fear. There is no such thing as a perfect parent or an ideal family. Parents will make mistakes and your children will watch you make those mistakes.
But what is crucial for learning is how you handle the situation when you do make mistakes. Instead of covering up that you have made mistakes, you have an ideal opportunity to show your child how to effectively use problem-solving skills, learn from mistakes, and how to communicate effectively.
Anyone can be a role model, but parents and main caregivers are still the major influences in a child’s life. Even when your child is a teenager and seems to show no interest in being “just like you”, they are still watching and copying.
So parents, let’s start now. The sooner, the better. The more consistent, the better. As they grow up, children will learn by example and they’ll have your example to follow in years to come.
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Jean enjoys working with children and youth because they inspire her to be a joyous and courageous person. She has a background in family therapy and was previously a part of the Leaderonomics Youth team.