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Modeling your own behavior to provide a consistent, positive example for your child

When I grow up, I want to be just like you.

Has your child ever said this to you?

It’s a bittersweet statement for a parent to hear. On the one hand, it’s touching to have your child look up to you in this way; on the other, being a role model comes with great responsibility.

Children learn as much, if not more from your actions as they do from your words.

Role models come in all shapes and sizes; they do all kinds of jobs; they come from any country or city. Some children view athletes as their role models; other children look up to authors or scientists. And, believe it or not, many children see their parents as role models.

All too often, parenting behavior is guided by adults reacting to their own childhoods; that is, many parents think: I don’t ever want to be like my parents; or it was good enough for me, so it’s good enough for my kids. Remember that reacting instead of responding prevents you from making decisions that can change the outcome of a situation. To be a more effective, consistent, active, and attentive parent, it’s best to focus on your children and their lives.

Does this mean that you have to be perfect so your child will grow up to be perfect, too? Of course not. No one is perfect. But, you do need to figure out what kind of example you are setting for your child.

You may want to be the kind of role model who does the following:

Do as you say and say as you do. Children want to act like their role models, not just talk like them. Children learn as much, if not more from your actions as they do from your words. Don’t just tell your child to call home if he or she is going to be late; make sure that you call home when you know you’re going to be late. Don’t just tell your child not to shout at you; don’t shout at your child or at others. This kind of consistency helps your child form reliable patterns of the relationship between attitudes and actions.

Show respect for other people, including your child. For many children, the word respect is hard to understand. It’s not something they can touch or feel, but it’s still a very important concept. To help your child learn about respect, you may want to point out when you are being respectful. For instance, when your child starts to pick out his or her own clothes, you can show respect for those choices. Tell your child, “That wouldn’t have been my choice, but I respect your decision to wear that plaid shirt with those striped pants.”

Be honest with your child about how you are feeling. Adults get confused about emotions all the time, so it’s no surprise that children might get confused, too. For instance, you might have a short temper after a really stressful day at work, but your child might think you are angry with him or her. If you find yourself acting differently than you usually do, explain to your child that he or she isn’t to blame for your change in “typical” behavior; your child can even help you by lightening your mood or altering your attitude. You can prevent a lot of hurt feelings and confusion by being honest with your child about your own emotions.

Make sure your child knows that being angry does not mean, “not loving.” Disagreements and arguments are a normal part of most relationships. But many children can’t separate love from anger; they assume that if you yell at them, then you don’t love them anymore. Even if you think your child has a solid grasp of emotions, you may want to be specific about this point. Otherwise, you run the risk of having your child think he or she is not loved every time you have a disagreement. Most of all, be alert to changes in your child’s emotions so you can “coach” your child through moments of anger or sadness without brushing-off the emotion or ignoring it.

Pinpoint things that you wouldn’t want your child’s role model to do, and make sure you aren’t doing them. For instance, suppose your child views a sports player as his or her role model. If you found out that player used illegal drugs or was verbally or physically abusive to others, would you still want your child to look up to that person? Probably not. Now apply that same standard to your own actions. If you don’t want your child to smoke, then you should not smoke. If you want your child to be on time for school, make sure you are on time for work and other meetings. If you don’t want your child to use curse words, then don’t use those words in front of your child. Reviewing your own conduct means being honest with yourself, about yourself. You may need to make some changes in how you act, but both you and your child will benefit in the end.

Did you know...?

Children are great copycats. Have you ever said a curse word in front of your child, only to hear him or her repeating that word later (usually at the worst possible time)? Kids are highly imitative, with both words and actions. If you are aggressive, your child may copy you to be aggressive, too. If you are very social, your child will probably be very social, too. Make sure you are a strong, consistent, and positive role model, to foster better behaviors in your child.

Did you know...?

How parents act in their relationships with one another has a significant impact on child development. Regardless of the living arrangements, parents should consider their children when dealing with each other. Your child sees how you work through everyday issues and uses your interactions as the basis for his or her own behavior in relationships. The next time you interact with your spouse, ex-spouse, or significant other, ask yourself whether or not you are providing a positive example for your child. Do you want your child to act the same way you are acting with that person or another person? If not, you may want to reconsider your behavior.

Did you know...?

How you feel affects your child. Your child tunes into your thoughts, feelings, and attitudes. He or she can sense how you feel about something, even if your words say that you are feeling something different. So a negative reaction or outburst from your child may not be without reason. It could be your child’s way of telling you how you feel.