The adults in their lives are often the first and biggest influence on the behaviour, values, character and attitudes of young children, and these will be carried on into their teenage years and adult life. This is because kids spend much of their early years observing those around them to learn what behaviours are socially acceptable and what are not. This means that the way adults act in front of their children will have a major and long-term impact on the person they will grow up to become.
This is where something called modelling comes in. Modelling is where, as part of your everyday lives, you, as a parent, demonstrate the behaviours you wish your child to display. For example, if you wish your child to develop good self-control and the ability to delay gratification (a key life skill and predictor of adult success), then it’s important that you show them self-control in action in a regular and ongoing basis. The same goes for good financial management, healthy interpersonal relationships, respect for others and many other things that are both core life skills and that are important in determining the person a child will become.
The trouble here is that many parents seem to forget this, and fail to act in an appropriate manner in front of their children. Instead, they choose to live by the maxim of Do What I Say And Not As I Do. This is not necessarily a conscious decision, instead they get into the habit of working on auto-pilot and they forget that children, especially younger ones, are like super-absorbent sponges, soaking up your every action and learning habits from you that will be with them for life.
When you stop and think about this, it’s both horrifying and very scary. Every action you take in front of your child, even one you might consider insignificant at the time, is a lesson they’ll learn about how it is acceptable to act in life. This is where the negative side of modelling raises its ugly head. If you constantly park where you shouldn’t, your child will learn that society’s rules can be ignored; if you drive recklessly, they’ll grow up to become reckless drivers themselves; if you shout at waiters and are rude to shop workers, they’ll learn that others shouldn’t be treated with respect. If you argue and fight with your partner in front of your child, shout insults and slam doors, then they’ll learn that this is the way they should act in their own relationships (and passively accept it when their partners treat them in the same way). If you yell and scream at your child, and continually lose your temper, then they’ll learn that this is an appropriate way to behave, and they’ll fail to learn how to control their own temper. They’ll also learn that this is an acceptable way to be treated by those who are meant to love them and it will spill out into their personal relationships. If you’re constantly putting them down and making snide remarks, then they’ll learn that this is how to treat their friends and relations. If you’re forever borrowing money, splurging on things you shouldn’t, failing to save for the future, giving in to your (or, indeed, their) every whim, then this is how your child will learn to act, and instead of learning self-control, they’ll learn to give in to their every impulse – no matter how much trouble it gets them into, and making them much more likely to have problems with money, relationships, drugs and alcohol in their adult lives.
All this occurs even with very young children, and often at a much younger age than you might assume. In fact, even children as young as a year or so are capable of picking up bad habits from the adults that surround them, and these can quickly become so ingrained in their personalities that they are very difficult to change. This seems to be particularly true of base characteristics, such as self-control, and if you are continually exhibiting poor self-control, then don’t be surprised if your child also develops poor self-control. It’s the same with respect. If you don’t treat your child with respect, even from a very young age, then they won’t learn to respect others, or indeed themselves.
Of course, there is a flip side to this, too. If you are calm and thoughtful, your child will learn to be calm and thoughtful, too; if you’re careful to always respect others, so will they; if you take good care of your money, they’ll learn to do the same; if you show them self-control in action, they’ll learn to apply self-control to their own lives; if you treat your partner with love and respect, they’ll do the same, and they’ll expect their future partners to behave this way too; if you listen to your child and share your emotions, they’ll learn to do the same.
The upshot of all this is that if you want to raise a child who will become a happy and successful adult, you need to be constantly on your guard when you’re around them to make sure you’re not inadvertently teaching them lessons and behaviours that you’d rather they didn’t learn. This is not something that’s necessarily easy to do, especially at first, but with a bit of practice it does become easier, and there’s a very simple rule to help you remember how you should act, and it’s this: when you’re around your child, be the adult you’d like to see them become.
This phrase gives you a strategy for implementing positive (rather than negative) modelling within your own parent-child dynamic. The key here is to be aware of your own behaviours, speech and actions (and especially ones which might have developed into unconscious habits) and use this maxim as a filter through which to observe them. If at any point, you’re left feeling that the way you’re acting isn’t the way you’d like to see your child act either now or when they’re an adult, then it’s something you shouldn’t be doing (or at least it’s something you shouldn’t be doing in front of your child). Of course, this won’t guarantee they’ll grow into a happy and successful adult, but it’ll make it much, much more likely. You’ll also find this both a much more positive and effective technique than simply telling your child how to behave, and one that is a lot less stressful for you to implement because you won’t be continually feeling that they’re ignoring everything you tell them to do.
And there is one last benefit to modelling only positive behaviours in front of your child . By identifying your own negative habits and making a conscious effort not to display them when your child’s around, it may help you eliminate them from your own life, and that’s likely to make you a happier adult, too!
Links To More Information About Modelling Desired Behaviours
If you’d like to find out more about modelling and how to use it to promote desirable behaviours in children, then you can check out the following articles:
- Modeling Behavior for Children Has Long-Lasting Effects (Psych Central).
- Does Modeling Affect a Child’s Behavior? (Our Every Day Life).
- Positive Guidance Techniques (Education.com).
About The Author: This post was written by Colin Drysdale, the creator of How To Raise A Happy Genius.