Have you ever considered that one of the most powerful tools in your parenting toolkit might be the example you set? According to the American Psychological Association, kids learn good and bad behaviors by watching, listening, and imitating.
In this parenting guide, we’ll explore the incredible impact of leading by example (aka role model parenting), the science behind it, and the long-term benefits it offers. Plus, read until the end for four practical tips to help you master this essential parenting technique.
Why Teaching Kids by Example Is Effective
You’ve probably heard the saying, “Monkey see, monkey do.” Well, it turns out children take this idiom quite seriously. Kids are natural mimics and learn by observing the adults in their lives. I learned this very important lesson when my 1-year-old started yelling “Hey, stop it!” at our dogs whenever they barked at the door–guess who does that?
From the moment they enter this world, our kids are on a mission to soak in all the information they can. Studying adults is how they learn to navigate the world, discover their values, and develop their understanding of right and wrong—which ultimately shines into their personality and how they relate with themselves and others.
The Science Behind Why Kids Learn by Example
The science behind this observational learning phenomenon is fascinating, too. Children have this incredible ability to internalize, absorb, and imitate the behaviors they observe.
In a widely recognized study, often referred to as the “Bobo Doll Experiment,” researchers observed that young children mirrored the behavior they witnessed in adults. For example, when kids saw an adult displaying aggression towards the inflatable “Bobo Doll,” they exhibited aggressive behavior when interacting with the doll. On the other hand, when children witnessed adults treating the doll with kindness, they were more inclined to display acts of kindness themselves.
Essentially, we as adults are doing much more than teaching kids what to do and how to do it—we’re teaching them how to “be” while doing it and instilling values, attitudes, and habits that will shape their character as they grow.
Long-Term Benefits Of Teaching Kids by Example
The influence of parents who lead by example extends far beyond the present moment. It has a lasting imprint on a child’s future, molding them into responsible, compassionate, and flourishing individuals. Let’s dive into the many benefits of teaching your kids by example.
Benefits of teaching kids by example:
- Healthy Habits. Modeling a balanced diet, regular exercise, and a healthy lifestyle encourages children to integrate these habits as they age. “Telling your kids what to do won’t always work. They need to see you choosing healthy habits, too,” experts at the American Academy of Family Physicians say.
- Emotional Intelligence. Children learn to manage their emotions by observing how their parents handle difficult situations. When parents model stressful times with empathy, self-awareness, and effective communication, they instill in their kids the essential skills needed to navigate future relationships and handle their own emotions appropriately.
- Respect for Others. Treating family members, friends, and even strangers with respect sets the foundation for strong, healthy relationships. This essential life skill not only fosters harmonious connections but also encourages kids to be more compassionate and inclusive.
- Responsibility. Children gain responsibility by observing their parents taking care of things like household chores, managing finances, and fulfilling commitments. If you want your children to make the bed every morning, you should make yours as well. Modeling responsibility not only prepares kids for the demands of adulthood but also fosters a strong work ethic and a sense of ownership in their actions.
- Confidence. Positive self-esteem and confidence grow when children observe their parents pursuing their own dreams and overcoming obstacles. “Seeing you tackle new tasks with optimism and lots of preparation sets a good example for kids,” says the Child Mind Institute. But keep in mind you don’t always have to be perfect, it’s okay to have off days.
4 Practical Ways To Lead By Example As A Parent
Children are like little sponges, soaking up everything they see and hear. They learn by imitating and watching the people around them. And as parents, you have the incredible power to be their positive role models. So, how can you lead by example effectively?
Now that we’ve established the importance and long-term benefits of teaching your kids by example, it’s time to see some practical tips to help you put this into action. Here are four tried-and-true techniques from the American Psychological Association.
1. Learn to manage your own stress and control anger
Stress and anger are a part of life and something your children will encounter as they grow. By showing them how to manage these feelings in an effective way, you’re giving them a valuable life skill. Take a deep breath, go for a walk, or engage in a relaxing activity when you’re feeling upset. When your child sees you coping calmly, they’ll be more likely to adopt these same techniques themselves.
2. Talk to others about your feelings and ideas in a respectful way
Teaching your children the art of respectful communication is a gift that will benefit them throughout their lives. When venting your feelings and ideas in your day-to-day life, try to do so in a calm and respectful manner.
It’s also important to include your child. If you’re feeling annoyed and raise your voice in front of your little one, get down on their level and talk them through what happened and how you’re feeling—be sure to acknowledge how you should have handled this better. This shows your child the importance of speaking courteously, which they’ll carry into their own interactions.
3. Solve problems and disputes using words, not violence
Conflict is a part of life, but it can be resolved without resorting to violence or aggressive behavior. Show your children how to use words to express themselves and work through disagreements.
Encourage them to talk about their feelings and find compromises with friends or siblings—just as you do when resolving issues at home. Demonstrate how to solve disagreements calmly and respectfully. Then, your children will eventually learn effective conflict-resolution skills by your parenting through actions strategy.
4. Talk to yourself aloud about a problem and a solution
A very subtle yet effective way to teach kids by example is talking to yourself aloud about how to navigate a problem in front of your children. This inner dialogue demonstrates problem-solving and decision-making, which children will internalize. By witnessing your literal thought process, kids will learn to approach challenges with a thoughtful and solution-oriented mindset.
Takeaway: Teaching Your Kids by Example
Teaching your kids by example is a powerful method that can shape their character and values. By modeling behavior you expect, you can lay the foundation for your children’s bright future. Remember, it’s not about being a perfect parent—it’s about showing your children that making mistakes and learning from them is a part of life. Rest assured, the little eyes that watch you will grow into an amazing adult.