Many of us think of a role model as someone iconic and famous, looked up to by thousands of people. But according Merriam-Webster's dictionary, a role model is merely “a person whose behavior in a particular role is imitated by others.” What that means is that no matter who you are, how you feel, or how you behave, if you are active in a child’s life, you are one of their role models.
Children learn from how they live
When I was a young mother and a new psychotherapist, I was raising my kids in a wide, three-bedroom, ranch-style home.
Rather than walk into the room where I was, my toddler daughter would scream across the house to get my attention. "MOMMY!!!!" she would yell over and over, until I would either come to her or yell back. If I ignored her, the yelling got louder.
I was frustrated, exasperated, and no matter how many times I told her to stop yelling or tried to ignore her, the behavior would not stop.
Fortunately, my mentor was a child development expert. She listened compassionately to my dilemma, but when I asked her if this was normal behavior, she said, “only if your daughter has been learning this; she wasn't born this way.” Well, I assured her that there was no way that I or her father had taught her this behavior as we could barely tolerate it!
Looking inside myself
She then asked, “Do you ever call out to her from the kitchen that dinner is ready? Do you ever beckon to her from another room, asking her to come to you?" I sheepishly said, “Yes, but don’t yell, I only raise my voice slightly." To which she replied, “You have taught her that it is acceptable to call out from another room. She is simply using her version of it.
"You have two choices, either everyone calls out from another room in the house in their own way or no one does. If you don’t want this behavior, you must start walking into the room that she is in if you need her, and you must teach her to do the same."
Modeling unacceptable behavior
I was modeling the very behavior that I was trying to stop. To this day, when parenting my teenagers, I am mindful that my actions, both good and bad, will be observed and emulated.
When focusing on being an effective role model, seek progress, not perfection. Pay extra attention to these suggested important areas, and you will be on the right track!
1. The importance of focusing on the positive
As parents, we tend to evaluate our kids and assess how they behave. We must take the time to let our kids know we like when they behave nicely, and that we love them for who they are. Let them hear when they are doing something right!
2. Awareness of how we communicate verbally and non-verbally
Whether speaking or not, we send messages to the world. Our words and our actions are equally meaningful. Teach your kids that a scowl, a frown or crossing arms in front of their chests puts out a negative message. A smile, a kind gesture or extended arms reaching out for a hug are all valuable body language messages.
3. The need for support and a sense of community
Kids and adults need to feel like they have cheerleaders when they're up and shoulders to cry on when they're down. A good support system and community will provide both. As adults we can model how to be good to our friends and to nurture our community.
4. Have respect, kindness and compassion for yourself and others
The ability to have respect, kindness and compassion for ourselves and others is not something we are born with, it is a skill we learn. The more we are taught these attributes and the more we practice them, the more likely we are to use them in our daily lives. Talk about how to be attentive and nurturing to physical, emotional and spiritual needs. And just as critical, our children should see us living that attentiveness through our actions.
Stacy Kaiser is a licensed psychotherapist, author, relationship expert and media personality. She is also the author of the best-selling book, How to Be a Grown Up: The Ten Secret Skills Everyone Needs to Know, and an editor-at-large for Live Happy. Stacy is a frequent guest on television programs such as Today and Good Morning America.