Annie Keeling: How healthy role-modeling builds stronger relationships
Children are massively observant, and their first format for learning is to watch and see how others act. Social scientists have shown that much of childhood learning is acquired through observation and imitation.
What we do matters even more than what we say.
If you’ve ever seen a baby sit behind a toddler on an airplane, you know that verbal language isn’t necessary for full communication.
As a parent, it is impossible not to model. Your children will see your example — positive and negative — as a pattern for the way life is to be lived.
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Role models are people who influence others by serving as examples. A person’s qualities, behaviors or achievements can have a direct effect on others without providing any direct instruction.
Parents and caregivers are role-models for children, whether they have that as an intention or not. Regular presence and interaction with kids provides consistent and evolving opportunities to be a great influence on them.
A Single Standard
Many people, including parents, subscribe to a double standard — using one standard for their moral behavior and another standard for conducting business or daily activities. We can see this in some politicians and business executives, but friends and family may also do this in certain areas of their lives.
For example, some parents show double standards to their kids — claiming integrity and honesty while cheating on taxes or getting out of an obligation by saying they are sick when they feel fine.
Ghandi strived to live a single standard of conduct in which his public and personal life were as closely aligned as possible in terms of responsibility, integrity and service.
How, as parents and role models, can we live a more single standard of conduct?
Our Best Selves
Here are some tools for increasing positive influence on children.
Do you show yourself respect and loving kindness? Your child is taking cues from you.
Are you critical or negative of your child’s school or teachers? Consider your words carefully.
Look for opportunities to model kindness and respect with others.
Is your child quick to lose his temper, throw a tantrum or yell? How about you? Sometimes parents scream at their children to “stop yelling!”
Anger is OK; violent behavior is not. Anger is a natural reaction to stress, challenges, triggers from the past or not getting what we want.
Practice a calming, breathing ritual to weaken an angry outburst.
Practice Positive Communication
Your words are important. Avoid shaming and blaming.
Shaming is sometimes used to gain compliance by making a child feel guilty or bad about themselves. Instead, describe what you see occurring without negativity or critical words. Instead of “You are a bad boy when you climb counters,” how about “You love to climb. The counters aren’t safe. Where can we go to climb that’s safe?”
Blaming is when we vent our anger on someone else and make them wrong. Instead, take responsibility for your own actions.
If your child only wants junk food instead of meals, remove the junk food from the house. Make healthy meals and eat them as a family so your child can see that modeled.
If your child has too much screen time, instill healthy limits for yourself and your child.
Do you ever need to convince your child to get outdoors and be active? You guessed it – get outdoors yourself and be active.
Humans Make Mistakes
There are no perfect parents or perfect children – even though societal messages might make it seem that there are. That means mistakes will be made.
Mistakes give us a great opportunity to model respectful behavior. When you have made a mistake or weren’t able to practice being calm, O.U.T. yourself. (O.U.T. is from “Second Nature: How Parents Can Use Neuroscience to Help Kids Develop Empathy, Creativity, and Self-Control,” by Erin Clabough, PhD.)
O: Own the behavior without blaming others.
U: Understand the effect your behavior had on the other person.
T: Tell what you will do differently next time.
Listening helps to build strong relationships with your children. If you listen through a filter of worry, concern, what you want or what you expect to hear, your child will be less likely to be honest with you. Listen with a clean slate of lessened expectation or judgment.
Share your own feelings with them so they get to know you; share some of your choices and decision-making as examples to guide them.
You will be a greater influence in your children’s lives if you have a warm and nurturing relationship with them.
Our own human-ness is a powerful parenting tool. It takes so much pressure off of children when they see their parents model how to treat themselves and others when mistakes do happen.
What a positive and powerful behavior to pass on to your kids.
Annie Keeling, MFA, of Grass Valley provides local and distance parent coaching. Connect with Keeling at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-210-1100.
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