How to Behave So Your Children Will Too
“Do as I say, not as I do” is a famous saying, but it is not a good way to parent. Children model their behavior on how their parents act.In fact, across cultures, children will imitate just about everything they see their adult caregivers do.Interact with your children in ways that will teach them good behavior as well as how to be good people.
Modeling Polite Behavior
Model good manners.Use the words you would like your child to use. Let your child hear you say things like “please,” “thank you,” and “excuse me” in your interactions with him/her and with the other adults and children in your life.This is more effective than prompting your child to say “the magic word” in order to receive something.
- Watch your own language around your children. If they hear you using swear words or coarse language, they will learn to speak that way, too.
Apologize when you mess up.It’s important for your child to see you apologize for your own mistakes. In addition, apologizing to your child demonstrates your love and respect for her as a human being.
- If your child causes a mess in a restaurant or cafe, for example, let the manager know right away and apologize for the situation. Your child will observe you taking responsibility for the situation and interacting respectfully with another adult.
Ask for your child’s help with daily tasks.Taking on tasks and jobs around the house helps children to develop a sense of confidence and independence. By allowing your child to lend a helping hand with errands, you help them develop socially, as they watch your interactions with others and get to practice interacting with strangers in a safe setting.Even failing at a chore can provide a useful learning experience.
- Even toddlers can take on simple jobs. For example, they can put dirty clothes in a hamper or toys back in a bin.
- Slightly older children, between ages three and five, love to count and sort. Ask your five-year-old to count out apples at the store or match socks in the laundry.
Choose your priorities.You don’t need to become a perfect person to be a good parent and role model. Identify, with your co-parent if possible, what qualities you would most like to instill in your child. Then, look for ways to model those qualities.
Be obvious.Make sure that you’re modeling good behavior in a way that your child can easily see and copy. For example, don’t only read after he/she’s gone to bed for the night, or hug your partner when the children aren’t looking.
Modeling Living a Good Life
Practice good self-care.Children are profoundly affected by their parents’ stress levels. Model good stress management for your child by making time for exercise, friends, and your partner.
- Notice how you talk about yourself in front of your children. For example, instead of saying, “I feel fat and ugly in this sweater,” say, “I don’t like wearing this sweater.”
Address the feelings that parenting evokes for you.Having a child often reawakens complex feelings left over from the parent’s own childhood. This can lead you to be critical of, or ambivalent about, your child, when really you are struggling with self-critical attitudes. Don’t blame yourself for these reactions, but do talk about them with another adult, whether a partner, a friend, or a counselor.
Pursue your own goals.Your child will learn about how to live a good, fulfilling life by watching your value yourself and your priorities. You do not need to sacrifice yourself for your child or live your life through your child.
- For example, make time to pursue a hobby or sport that you care about. Your child will benefit from seeing you prioritize something you love. He/She will also benefit from seeing you maintain adult friendships through an activity you enjoy.
Disciplining Your Child
Praise good behavior and positive changes.Notice even small improvements. For example, if your toddler gets angry but refrains, finally, from hitting his/her sister, point that out explicitly.
- Use “labeled praise” that lets your child know exactly what he/she’s doing right. For example, rather than saying, “You’re being good today!” say, “I really like how you helped your little brother/sister out just now.”
Role play good behavior.You and your child will each take roles in an imaginary difficult situation modeled on a real problem area. Narrate the situation and begin to role play. Offer feedback as well as praise. This technique helps your child to think ahead when faced with frustrating situations.
Stay calm before reacting to your child’s bad behavior.Manage your own anger and emotional reactions. In addition to preventing a bad situation, this models healthy behavior.
- If your child is sarcastic, rude, or rebellious, you must not take their words and actions personally. Focus on their behavior rather than your theories about why they are acting badly.
- Remind yourself that this is not an emergency. Your emotions may have triggered a flight-or-fight response, but in fact you have plenty of time to deal with the situation.
- Take a time out for yourself, explaining: “I’ll be back in a minute, once I’m calmer.” Soothe yourself with deep breaths, some cool water, and reassurance. Remind yourself that you are a good parent and you will be able to handle the situation.
Avoid physical violence.Model respectful conflict resolution instead. Children who are hit or spanked will learn that violence is a valid method for solving problems.What’s more, you are at risk of losing control of yourself when you hit your child. Even if physical violence stops a bad behavior in the short term, in the long term it damages your relationship with your child and can cause mental and emotional problems for him/her later on.
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