Modeling is a teaching method that is widely used in the field of education, but did you know that modeling can also be applied in our parenting practices? Previously, we mentioned how modeling is an important factor in behavior change, wherein it can occur if the behavior is observed and repeated (Fryling et al., 2010). In addition, the studies regarding modeling when used in the family context is closely tied with communication. This may explain why our children can pick-up and copy our own mannerisms and habits. With these in mind, let us talk about how crucial modeling can be when it comes to parenting and the overall dynamics at home as it can have a lasting effect on our child’s later years (Kichler and Crowther., 2013; Odenweller et al., 2013; Singer and Hensley, 2004)).
Modeling can be described as a natural and unconscious activity at home (Odenweller et al., 2013). We may not notice it but children make observations — from the way you move, how you fix your hair, to how you deal with stress at home. Children can see all of it! Modeling can be used even in the moments when everyone is minding their own business. This is because children are naturally observant (Committee on the Science of Children Birth to Age 8, 2015). Knowing all of these, it is important for us to be mindful of and to pay attention to how we act and speak in front of our children.
The long-term effects of modeling negative behaviors
To further emphasize this, a study from Kichler and Crowther (2008) shows us how modeling and communication within the family has an effect on the child’s body image and their behaviors towards eating. According to them, mindless yet constant acts of teasing is one of the leading causes of eating disorders as the child grows up. They even label this kind of interaction as “negative familial communication”, which may be responsible for the child’s act of passing on what they experienced in childhood to their own children in the future (Kichler and Crowther, 2008).
Another study is from Singer and Hensley (2004) where they claim that aggression and frustration can be passed through generations and can persist even until adulthood. Again, their study closely ties modeling and communication during childhood, which really tells us how important modeling is in the development of the child (Singer and Hensley, 2004). Although the study talks about the interrelationship between crimes and childhood, we can draw out the fact that one of the harmful effects of negative modeling and communication is for children to eventually lead to committing crimes when they grow older.
A more positive way to model
How, then, do we prevent and avoid negative modeling and lean more towards the positive and appropriate side of modeling? Kichler and Crowther (2008) found an interesting discovery where positive communication and modeling should overshadow the amount of negative modeling that we unintentionally demonstrate to achieve the “wanted balance”. In effect, we, as parents and teachers, should always try to be mindful of how we act in front of children as they can ultimately copy whatever we did. Remember, what we are preventing by doing this is generations of children after our child, not just the one in front of us.
In addition to being mindful and careful, we also encourage parents to practice positive parenting at home. Positive parenting is the act of nurturing and developing a harmonious and respectful relationship between parents and their children (Harvey, 2020). Here, we focus on the process or the “why” of behaviors and activities, not just the “what”.
Here are some ways we can practice positive parenting (from Harvey, 2020)
- MAKE HOUSE RULES: House rules and their corresponding consequences are religiously followed, discussed, and laid out.
- AVOID PUNISHMENTS: Allow children to learn self-discipline on their own and not out of fear of punishment. Tell them why the behavior is wrong instead of punishing them for doing the bad behavior.
- ACTIVE LISTENING: Use active listening to understand your child’s thoughts and to prevent misunderstandings.
Here’s an example of how we can use positive parenting when intervening in our children’s affairs. Let’s say that one of the agreed-upon house rules is to “always ask for permission” before borrowing. But then, you see that your children are fighting because one of them took the other’s toy without asking for permission. The first thing that could be done is to ask both children involved what happened in order to prevent any misunderstanding, and to process what happened. Doing this allows your child to also vent out and recognize what they are feeling because of what happened. The next thing that could be done is to remind both parties involved about the established rules (In this case it is asking for permission). Lastly, we can conclude the intervention by asking both our children what they can do together from here. Doing so will allow our children to independently reflect on their hurtful behaviors, as well as give them encouragement and confidence by allowing them to solve their problem on their own. Our role as parents in this situation was merely to facilitate and to guide our children towards the solution, instead of dictating and giving them what the solution is.
Committee on the Science of Children Birth to Age 8. (2015). Transforming the Workforce for Children Birth Through Age 8: A Unifying Foundation. National Academies Press (US).
Fryling, M. J., Johnston, C., & Hayes, L. J. (2011). Understanding observational learning: an interbehavioral approach. The Analysis of verbal behavior, 27(1), 191–203.
Harvey, B. (2020). Positive Parenting Defined. Kars4Kids. https://parenting.kars4kids.org/positive-parenting-defined/
Kichler, J. C.; Crowther, J. H. (2008). Young Girls’ Eating Attitudes and Body Image Dissatisfaction: Associations with Communication and Modeling. The Journal of Early Adolescence, 29(2), 212–232. doi:10.1177/0272431608320121
Odenweller, Kelly G.; Rittenour, Christine E.; Myers, Scott A.; Brann, Maria (2013). Father-Son Family Communication Patterns and Gender Ideologies: A Modeling and Compensation Analysis. Journal of Family Communication, 13(4), 340–357. doi:10.1080/15267431.2013.823432
Singer, S. and Hensley, C. (2004). Applying Social Learning Theory to Childhood and Adolescent Firesetting: Can it Lead to Serial Murder?. International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 48(4), 461–476. doi:10.1177/0306624X04265087