Lead By Example for Your Child
Children need love, boundaries and a role model to look up to. While there is no shortage of candidates – from cartoon characters and athletes, to teachers and peers – nothing comes close to the power of a parent. And, in most cases, children are more susceptible to what their parents do than what they say. So, “do as I say, not as I do” isn’t very effective after all.
What does work? Leading by example.
“The actions, words, and intentions that are unstated but observed hold a great deal of weight," says Shannon Erklin, PhD, a clinical psychologist at Central DuPage Hospital. “From infancy, children naturally watch their parents and imitate them and there is a tremendous amount of learning taking place before kids even develop language.”
When you lead your best life, children take notice. They develop healthy habits and imitate the words, actions and behaviors that guide them to a fulfilling future. From diets to relationships, you can guide your child’s development by being a good role model.
It’s never too soon to model good behavior and healthy habits for your child. Here’s how.
1. Take Care of Yourself
“Taking care of ourselves is also one of the hardest things to fit in for many parents,” says Erklin. And you’re not the only one who benefits when you take care of yourself. Children learn from example and you can teach them about wellness just by prioritizing your needs.
“I think open communication about the things you do “for yourself” is important for children too,” adds Erklin. “If I have plans with friends, I talk with my daughters about how spending time with my friends makes me feel happy. They can relate, and I can also use the opportunity to demonstrate the value I place on my time and my friends’ time.”
2. Value Your Emotional Health
Teaching your child to respect and maintain their emotional health is one of the most important lessons you can teach. Fostering self-esteem and self-respect are skills that benefit children throughout their lives. Similarly, a healthy approach to negative feelings, such as disappointment and anger, is one foundation of maturity.
Ongoing conversation with your child will be an essential component of this process, but when that’s not always possible – think the teen years – modeling self-esteem, self-respect and anger management will be more influential than you may think.
Just remember – this doesn’t mean you have to hide your anger, sadness or disappointment. To the contrary, your child can learn from seeing a range of emotions expressed and dealt with healthily.
3. Find and Accept Support
A support network is an incredible resource for you and your child when your family, friends and your child’s teachers are available to help. They can show your child their own healthy habits, and help you handle the demands of parenthood, so you can better take care of yourself!
Showing that it’s okay – even encouraged – to seek help and support from your community is a valuable lesson for children. It can also lead them to develop healthy and supportive relationships in the very same community.
4. Maintain Healthy Relationships
Your relationships will be one of the most influential aspects of your life for your child. With your family, friends and better half, model the relationships you hope for your child to have. Developing social skills is a considerable part of growing up, but you don’t have to be an extrovert to show your child healthy relationships. Be dependable, loyal and considerate. Model good manners and respect for others. Children pick up on everything – being polite and respectful to whomever you encounter teaches your child that other people are important too.
5. Set and Achieve Goals
One of the best ways to teach your child how to be motivated, to study and do well in school, is by modeling your own motivated behavior. Allow your child to see you evaluate your behavior and set goals for yourself. Whether your five-minute mile is a success or failure, they will see the process, the work and value within.
Show your child that goals can be big or small, and that everyone has their own definition of success. Be open to and encourage their interests, and use this model to teach good habits for chores and schoolwork too!
6. Admit When You’re Wrong
Much like your unmet goals, seeing and hearing you admit your mistakes can be formative for your child. When you’re teaching responsibility, it’s important to emphasize consequences too. Something as little as admitting you were wrong can convey these lessons and allow you to apply those principles more effectively to your parenting too.
7. Address Alcohol and Drugs
Every family has their own values when it comes to alcohol, drugs and related behavior. As they get older, teach your children about house rules as well as laws in your area. You may find it valuable to discuss media representations and your own experiences as well.
That said, we’ve also established that children learn more from seeing than listening. Model healthy habits in your own behavior and encourage your children to feel comfortable talking about these subjects with you. Just remember to make it clear that while you’re enjoying responsibility as an adult, laws and your own house rules prohibit theirs. You’re teaching healthy habits for a not-so-distant future!
8. Model Independence
Raising an independent child is one of the best things you can do. Through your personal independence, commitment to your values and willingness to pursue your own goals, you can teach your child that they don’t have to follow the crowd, that they can be their own person. Define your own success and allow your child to define theirs. A dose of healthy skepticism of what’s cool never hurt anyone.
With this comes self-respect.
“I honestly believe that one of the greatest values a child can learn from a role model is how to act and live in a manner that supports respect for the self,” says Erklin. “This one value can serve as the foundation for making decisions and acting with regard to so many other aspects of his or her life.”
9. Be What You Want to See
At the core, this list is all about modeling the characteristics, values and behavior you hope to see in your child. Friendliness, respect and tolerance for everyone are great foundations for your and your child’s life. Leading your family by your own honesty and commitment to a healthy lifestyle, physically and emotionally, can be immensely beneficial to your child.
10. Show Love
Before independence, before responsibility and long before they start dating, show your child that you love them. Show them respect and that you love and value each member of your family. Show them what a happy family looks like, show them how to have fun, be happy and love each other. Modeling healthy, supportive love is never a bad decision.