Growing up, I lived in a small village, where everyone knew everyone else. One of the benefits of this as children was that, as friends, we were always in each other’s houses and had a lot of freedom. This was great in one way, but it also meant that I saw a lot of different types of parenting – and some of it was less than great.
One mum was very fond of saying to her child “Do as I say, not as I do” – to be honest, it seemed like good advice on the surface, she really wasn’t a great role model, but there’s a lot of good research to show why this advice does not work for a number of reasons.
Children learn by example, plain and simple. Children absorb everything around them, and they are exceptionally sponge-like (Tiny Sponges!) in their capacity to learn and, of course, they mirror both good andbad behaviours from the time they are very young. So we, as parents, need to be modeling the behaviour we want from our children – it’s one of the most effective things we as parents can do. What YOU do matters a lot more than what you say your child should do.
So things like how you treat family members, how you interact with strangers, how you talk about others – maybe in a phone call to a friend? How you treat animals, how you look after the environment, how you react if something upsets you, angers you, delights you, are all absorbed and often repeated by your children.
Look at food habits – are you a fussy eater? Avoid vegetables? Do you often eat with your child, or do they eat at different times, eat different things? The best way to get your children to eat their broccoli? Share mealtimes, let them see you eat it enthusiastically yourself. Children aren’t silly – they can spot an actor miles away (I don’t mean Idris Elba), so believing in what you’re doing is an important part of leading by example.
So, if you want your child to be caring, respectful, patient and kind, then simply make sure you are showing those behaviours yourself. It’s not always easy, life can be difficult and we all get irritated, cross, impatient at times. But always remember that you, the parent, are the number one role model in your child’s life. You have a huge responsibility, you took that on, and showing them — rather than telling them — how to behave, negotiate and navigate the world around them is the most effective way of parenting a child with the behaviours and values that will help them in life.