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Be a good role model

Be a good role model
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Highlights

From infancy children are taught how to become productive and mature members of their family and society as a whole by their legal guardians - their parents. This socialization or teaching instructs children about what behaviours are acceptable in their family school and their wider community. 

From infancy children are taught how to become productive and mature members of their family and society as a whole by their legal guardians - their parents. This socialization or teaching instructs children about what behaviours are acceptable in their family school and their wider community.

Apart from using verbal instructions, parents can use a range of methods to teach and instruct their children about the behaviours that are acceptable in their home, school and in public. Indirect methods such as a parent modelling desired or appropriate behaviour is considered to be a powerful and influential way to teach and instruct children.

The point of this chapter is simply to show that you are not only an appropriate model for your child, but that you recognize and accept you are actually accountable to your child for your behaviour. To do anything else is to adopt the authoritarian parenting style of ‘do as I say, not as I do'.

In my experience it is often quite confronting for parents when they begin to develop an awareness of how their parenting skills (or lack thereof) may very well influence and reinforce the very behaviours they find difficult to manage in their children.

This is because children learn through the natural processes of observation and imitation. Furthermore, as parents work through this session one of the greatest difficulties they face is coming to accept the realization that they are also accountable to their children for their own actions and attitudes. To make this a little clearer, consider the following questions:

  • What messages are you sending your child through your behaviour?
  • Is your child’s behaviour simply mimicking your own behaviour?
  • Is your child learning appropriate behavioural and emotional expression from you?
  • What principles are you teaching your child through your attitudes and approach to life?

Children look to you as the adult, the parent, to learn what responses, attitudes and behaviours are acceptable across varied situations and events.

Parents who are verbally or physically aggressive model this behaviour to their children. Parents who use corporal punishment, manipulation, threats and shaming toward their child or toward others may very well be providing permission for their child to act in a similar manner.

However, parental modelling is not restricted to such obvious and overt behaviours as corporal punishment or using guilt to manipulate a child. Children also learn from your attitudes, your approach to handling difficult situations, the way you go about resolving conflict, even the way in which you may speak to your spouse or other family members. Below are just a few examples of how parents model attitudes and behaviour to their children across various situations.

Behavioural Examples
The mother of an eight-year-old boy and four-year-old girl came to see me with concerns about her son’s behaviour. According to the mother, ‘He gets really angry and throws the rubbish bin, pushes over the [dining] chairs, he pushes over the dining table. He’s just like his father.’ It turns out her husband was a violent alcoholic who would throw all manner of things at her and the children when he was angry.

A mother of an eleven-year-old boy said, `He tries to lord it over me. When I try to talk to him about his behaviour he talks over the top of me in an aggressive manner. This is exactly how his father talks to me. He grew up in a physically violent home. His father would also belittle his mother and sister now he is just like his father. He struts around the home as though he owns it. He is physically aggressive toward his mother and verbally belittles his sister.’

These behavioural examples are straightforward and reasonably obvious and so are the lessons the children are learning from them. But what about this example? The parents have had an argument. The mother and father have been yelling and swearing at each other.

Dad leaves and walks into the living room where he finds his two young boys sitting on the floor using the PlayStation. As the father storms across floor his foot gets tangled in the console cords. He turns and kicks the PlayStation across the room, yelling at the boys because they are in his way.

What is the lesson the children have been taught? Later on, when one of the boys got angry he kicked the PlayStation across the floor and smashed it.

What about attitudes? What might your child be learning from your attitudes?

Examples of Modelling Attitudes
Parental modelling is not just restricted to behaviours. One woman told me that her husband told her it was her duty to always look her best and that she must wear fine clothes and make-up every day, and she was to greet him at the door dressed in lingerie when he arrived home from work each day.

Apparently the husband also expected his wife to be a stay-at-home mother and housekeeper: completing all the housework each day, paying all necessary household bills, doing the weekly shopping, taking their three boys to after-school sports, and having his evening meal cooked and ready to eat when he arrived home from work.

If she failed in any of these chores or if he was for some reason annoyed or agitated he was quick to berate or criticize her. He frequently spoke to her disrespectfully and thought it was amusing when she complained to him about how their three boys spoke to her in the same manner.

What do you think the attitudes of this husband were towards his wife and women in general? What message was he sending his sons about the role of women, and the way in which women ought to be treated? What is this father teaching his children?

A seven-year-old child turns to an adult and calls out, `Loser, loser!’ The adult turns to the child and replies, ‘You shouldn’t say things like that.’ The child looks straight at the adult and again sings out, ‘Loser, loser!’

The adult responds to the child again, saying, `No, don’t say that,’ and then turns to the mother to suggest, `You shouldn’t allow your child to say things like that.’ The mother of the child turns to the adult and angrily says, ‘I’ll teach my kid whatever I like.’ Again, ask yourself what attitudes this mother is teaching her child.

Extracted from the book ‘Raising Difficult Kids’ by Stuart Passmore with permission of Pan Macmillan India.

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