An invaluable amount of what a child learns every day is through what parents inadvertently model in daily mundane moments. I am not talking about when you sit down with your 10-year-old to discuss the impact of cyber-bullying, or when you allocate special time to play phonics cards with your four-year-old or even the evening story time you share with your child, bonding at the end of a long day. What I am referring to are the everyday moments that parents so often don’t pay much attention to.
Well, the small things do add up, and so do all of those mundane moments. These lead to some of the greatest impacts on how children see their parents and eventually mirror parental behaviours. Parents all too often view their children’s problems as being directly or indirectly caused by factors outside of the family, such as friends, TV, music videos, schools or even drugs and alcohol. I am not here to tell you that parents are always a direct cause of their children’s problems. Factors such as temperament and mental illness certainly play a significant role in children’s behaviour, and parental modelling is not the only contributing factor to problems in children. The psychology of human behaviour is multifaceted and often complicated; however, more often than not, parents need to be brave and open to accepting that sometimes the apple does not fall all that far from the tree.
In my practice I have observed more often than not that the parents themselves are modelling the very behaviours they are complaining about in their children. For example, I often hear parents complain that their child is rude and disrespectful, yet these same parents show up late for their appointment with me, confess to arguing openly in front of the children, and tell me how they wanted to kill the person who cut them off on the highway yesterday. And what about the exponential use of technology today? Many parents are very concerned about the impact of their children’s “addiction” to screens, yet they themselves report sending numerous text messages throughout the day, looking up recipes, and acquiring various other information electronically, through which they are directly modelling an “addiction” to technology. Other complaints such as bossiness, weight preoccupation, use of inappropriate language, and even sexualized behaviour I find are often seen in the parent.
Ghandi’s famous quote couldn’t be more suitable: “Be the change you want to see in the world.” This is more true than ever when it comes to inspiring our children to exhibit appropriate behaviour. So before you complain about your child, ask yourself: “Am I modelling that which I don’t want my child to repeat, at least not yet?” If the answer is yes (or maybe), don’t panic! Awareness is the first and probably the most important step when it comes to change. There is no such thing as a perfect parent, but if you are a self-aware parent who makes an effort to model positive behaviour and who recognizes and even acknowledges a mistake you have made, you are certainly bound to see desirable behaviours in your child.