Want to see good behavior in children? Model the behavior you want to see in your child. Here’s why it’s the most effective technique.
Let’s say you had to choose between two options. The first is giving your child advice but no action. The second is not saying anything but doing what you want her to do.
Hands down, you should choose the latter.
You see, modeling is the best teaching method. It’s not enough to tell her about important values and responsibilities. You have to show her through your actions.
Model the behavior and she’ll understand that these expectations apply to everyone, kids and adults. Being kind and reading every day aren’t only for her—even the adults in her life live by these principles and values.
Modeling behavior is also more effective than telling her what to do. Yes, she likely needs verbal guidance, but seeing you behave the same way sends a stronger message.
Keep in mind though, this isn’t a call to be The Perfect Parent. You’ll lose your temper and make huge mistakes that she might even copy for herself. But the most effective way to teach your child is to follow those lessons yourself.
Model the behavior you want to see in your child
Perhaps the biggest reassurance modeling the behavior has for your child? That being a parent doesn’t make you exempt from the expectations you want her to follow. That you’re not excused from these standards because you’re the parent, or that the rules don’t apply to you.
Your actions, as they say, speak louder than words.
So, how do you know if you’re modeling the behavior you want to see in your child? Consider these two rules:
1. Ask yourself if you’re misbehaving
We’ve all yelled at our kids to—ironically—stop yelling. We throw fits, slam doors, and make snappy comments. Then we turn around and tell them not to do those things. No wonder they can feel resentment and confusion about our expectations.
I’ve lost my temper more often than I’d like, and each time, I cringed thinking of my own kids behaving the way I just did. There’s no way I would’ve allowed them to behave that way, but my actions showed them exactly how to.
Any time you teach your child a lesson, ask yourself if you do the same. It’s easy to tell her not to yell at her brother, but what if you yell at them, or at your spouse? She’ll pick up on your behavior and do what she sees. She won’t resolve conflict with respect when she sees you speak unkindly to others.
If you cringe thinking of her copying your behavior, then that’s a clear signal to make better choices.
2. Be the adult you want your child to be
Imagine how your child will be as she enters adulthood. Disregard her job, family, home, interests, or any of that. Instead, focus on the values and behaviors you’d love to see in the adult version of her.
Most of us would want our children to be kind and generous. Ambitious but humble. Someone who values learning and reading and speaks in a respectful way to others.
Now is our chance to behave and adopt the values we want our kids to have as an adult. It’s difficult to raise them to be kind and generous when we speak unkindly to those around us. Instead, live the values you’d like them to adopt in the future.
Free email challenge: Looking for actionable steps and quick wins in parenting? The Better Parenting 5-Day Challenge is for parents who know they want to improve but need that little nudge and supportive guidance to do so.
Over the course of 5 days, we’ll tackle one actionable tip you can do right away that will change the way you raise your child. This is your chance to challenge yourself and make the changes you’ve always wanted to make. Sign up today!
Ways to set an example
We’ve seen the importance of our actions aligning with our words. How can we apply those two rules into everyday choices and behaviors? Below, I list several simple ways we can model the behavior we want to see in our kids:
1. Be respectful
How do you interact with those around you, from family to strangers? How can you show your child through your actions a respectful way of interacting with others?
It’s easy to tell her not to yell at your or boss her brother around, but ask yourself whether she could’ve picked up these habits from you. The more respectful you can be to others, the easier it’ll be for her to mimic your actions.
Treat the customer support person with respect, even as you raise a concern. Don’t flip out when someone cuts you off. These small actions show her how to resolve conflict and be respectful.
The next time her brother knocks down her tower of bricks, she’ll draw on her observations and express disappointment, not lash out at him. All because she had seen you respond in a similar way.
2. Say sorry
We tell our kids to say “sorry” after every scuffle—sometimes we even force them to. Here’s the thing: they’re more likely to feel genuine remorse and say “sorry” if they see us doing the same. Admitting and apologizing for mistakes removes shame and encourages them to follow suit.
As I say in my book, You Are Enough:
“Owning up to the times we lose our temper, say something in a mean way, or aren’t available when our kids want us can be a powerful way to pivot and change direction.
Apologizing shows them that we make mistakes, too—that adults aren’t immune to the same challenges and emotions they face. And perhaps most important, apologizing models and teaches them how to own up to their own mistakes.”
3. Stay calm
We’ve all had to tell our kids to stop yelling or throwing a fit, to keep their cool instead of having a meltdown. But think about how often you lose your own temper, and whether it’s the same behavior you’re telling them not to do.
While we’ll never be perfect and stay calm 24/7, being mindful of how often you lose your cool will help. If you sense you’re getting frustrated more frequently, address the issue so your own meltdowns and flareups are few and far between.
4. Be grateful
One of the best ways to raise conscientious children is to teach gratitude. We want our kids to appreciate what they have instead of assuming they always need more.
And of course, the simplest way to teach them is to model it ourselves. Show gratitude for little pleasures like a delicious meal or a bike ride at the park. Acknowledge your blessings, from the radishes growing in the garden to the new slippers you bought yourself.
And stress the importance of daily gratitude. You might cap the night by talking about three good things that happened that day, or go around the dinner table sharing what you’re grateful for. These little acts of gratitude you model yourself will rub off on them every day.
5. Limit screen time
Copious amounts of time watching television or playing videos isn’t healthy for kids. As such, we might enforce a strict limit on screen time, but not follow the rule ourselves. (Netflix binge watching, anyone?)
If you can, avoid hopping on the computer or phone while your kids are around. For instance, save screen time when the kids are also watching television, or read physical books too so they don’t think you’re always on a screen.
If you can’t or it’s part of your job, explain your circumstances so they understand you’re not making special exceptions for yourself. With many of us working from home while the kids are at school, you can let them know that this is what you would’ve typically done in the office.
6. Read often
The benefits of reading are enough to convince any parent the importance of this habit. So, we push our kids to read, we borrow them books, and make reading a nightly ritual.
But what about us?
Are your kids seeing you read a book for pleasure? Do you borrow books for yourself from the library? Do they see books on the shelves or on your nightstand?
Read for yourself and you’ll see how much more they’ll love reading. They’ll see that reading isn’t a chore, or something only kids do. Instead, reading is a lifelong leisure adults share as well.
As important as modeling behavior can be, it’s also one of the hardest things to do. After all, it’s easier to see the logic of these habits and tell others to do them, but much harder to follow suit ourselves. We’re human and learning about ourselves right alongside our kids.
Except that’s what makes modeling behavior that much more important. Our actions do speak louder than words. So much so that we don’t always have to “teach” them through words, but we can do so through our actions.
Get more tips:
- How Teaching Kids about Emotions Reduces Misbehavior
- One Sure Way to Prevent Misbehavior in Children
- Are You Balancing Your Children’s Needs Fairly?
- 10 Children’s Books about Being Kind
- What to Do when Your Child Disrespects You
Don’t forget: Join the Better Parenting 5-Day Challenge today!