How to Be a Role Model For Your Kids Without Being Perfect
Role models are all around us. They have the power to inspire us to greatness – or to lead us down the wrong path. Our children are little sponges that absorb everything around them. So as parents, it’s important that we set a good example for our little ones.
When our children are very young, we have the power to decide how they spend their time and who they spend that time with. We can surround them with influences that are positive role models. That changes once they head off to preschool, and we have little control over their influences.
As parents, we not only have an obligation to be good role models, but we also have a responsibility to teach our children how to recognize when those around them aren't setting a good example, and help them learn to make wise decisions on their own.
But how do we achieve this goal without putting too much pressure on ourselves to be perfect?
The Good and the Bad
First, it’s important that we make a distinction between “good” role models and “bad” role models. Good role models aren't necessarily perfect people that never fail or never have bad days. Good role models are simply human beings that show up for life every day, knowing that their choices have the power to impact the lives of everyone around them – and they do their best to be a good influence, leading with kindness and respect. And they continue to be good role models on their bad days as well, recovering well from mistakes and showing resiliency and positivity when things don't go their way.
Bad role models, on the other hand, don’t make good or informed decisions and cannot make the connection that their choices or negative behaviors have the power to affect the people in their lives. Usually this is because they are too self-involved or unaware to either notice or care.
We may cognitively know that we want to be a good role model for our children, but perhaps we’re unclear about how to accomplish that goal. Role modeling is a passive form of instruction where we actively need to be aware of our own behaviors and attitudes in life, with the awareness that our children are watching our actions and our reactions. Through role modeling, we follow through on the values and the life lessons we speak to our kids about, and we lead by example. It’s our opportunity to not only show what the abstract concepts we talk about look like in real life, through concrete actions, but it’s also a wonderful way to make sure that we, ourselves, practice what we preach.
Setting a Positive Example
You know you want to be a shining example for your kids on a daily basis. But how do you achieve that, exactly?
Follow Your Passion and Work at It: Likely, you expect your children to learn, grow, explore, and develop. You’d like for them to develop new skills and to expand themselves. Follow through with your expectations by role modeling the behavior you wish to see. Do something every day to evolve and grow as well – whether you’re focused on your own health and wellness, on career goals, creative projects etc. We can teach our children how to follow their own passions by letting them witness us doing something that we do love. So find something that brings you joy and do it as much as time allows. Show your kids how you challenge yourself to improve and let them see your self-discipline.
Practice Self-Control and Keep Your Own Tantrums in Check: As a culture, we tend to have big reactions to even the most insignificant occurrences. Life is full of unfortunate events – someone may cut your off, the handles on your grocery bag may rip just steps before you reach the door, your cat or dog may have an accident on your favorite rug, toes may get stubbed – but we don’t have to react to any of these in an over-dramatic or out-of-control manner. Keep those big reactions in check. Remember that if your children are around, someone is watching and listening to how you react to life’s little dilemmas. You’re setting the tone for how they handle their own challenges.
Set Personal Goals and Follow Through: It’s important to share the parts of your life that challenge you in a positive way. We don’t need to build big walls between the adult world and our children’s world. Let your kids in on some of your personal or career goals, whichever you’re comfortable sharing. Talk through how you hope to achieve your goals in an age-appropriate way. When it comes to small projects at home – whether it’s planting a garden or building a bookcase – let them assist you as you successfully complete your goal. They'll not only experience the joy that comes when you have a plan and follow it through, but they’ll also understand how to break down projects into manageable pieces.
If you happen not to meet some of your goals, you can also talk about what you will do next, how you’ll change your tactics, and show that solutions are still possible.
Know Your Limitations: We all have a lot on our plates, including our kids. There are more distractions, more obligations, more homework, and a whole lot of activities to stay on top of. If we want to be happy and successful, it’s just as important to know when to push back, as it is knowing what to take on. Don’t overextend yourself just to please other people. If you can’t sign up for that bake sale at your child’s school for example, it’s ok to say no. It’s not worth compromising your health or using the time you could be spending more wisely on important priorities. Similarly, don’t make promises you can’t keep. For example, if your work obligations are such that you can’t make it to your child’s performance at school, take the time to explain the situation lovingly and affectionately. Yes, they will still be disappointed but agreeing to expectations you just can’t make work will be far worse.
Make Time for Self-Care and Wellness: When our children are very young, we’re able to make sure they’re eating healthy foods, sleeping enough hours, and getting adequate downtime. Making sure they have a healthy quality of life is within our control. But before long, they will be making their own decisions. We can’t be expecting them to eat apples for dessert if we’re snacking on cookies ourselves. We have to commit to the lifestyle we want our children to adopt and to continue later in life. It’s very important for our children to not only feel like we’re responsible for taking care of them now but to show them that we, just as equally, take care of ourselves so that they can understand self-care and grow into those responsibilities for themselves.
Allow Yourself to Make Mistakes and Learn From Them: Being flawed is part of being human. When we forgive ourselves and others for making mistakes, we’re showing our children that we don’t expect perfection from them. We can show them how to apologize for, recover from, and learn from our own mistakes rather than succumbing to guilt or blame. By doing so, we allow them to be imperfect human beings that can take risk, show courage, and grow.
Have Integrity and Be Honest: If we want to teach our children to be honest, then we have to teach by example. So for example if the grocer gives you back the too much change, make sure that your child watches you acknowledging the mistake and return the money with a smile. If you’re late to an event, don’t let your child overhear a dishonest excuse. Make sure your words are authentic and truthful. Even when it comes to hard topics, maintaining honest responses is critical. Your child will always learn the truth at some point and not only can that be devastating, it sets a negative example.
Demonstrate Respect and Listen Actively: If we want our words to matter, we have to hear out what other people say as well. Whether your child is disagreeing with you on a topic, attempting to express their emotions, or simply telling you a story, give them your full attention. That means setting aside what you’re doing, making eye contact, and listening actively. Of course, there are times when we simply can’t give them our undivided attention. In those cases, make it clear that you want to hear what they have to say but it needs to wait. Quickly have them jot down, or write down for them if they’re too young, a couple of key words so they’ll remember what they wanted to talk about and circle back at a better time when you can give them attention. By doing this, you’ll be teaching them the importance of respectful listening.
Show Compassion to Others: Teaching our children how to have empathy and compassion for others is one of the most profound lessons that we can teach our children. If your child’s sibling is having a tough time at school, help your child understand the situation, talk about how the sibling is feeling, and discuss how your child might feel in a similar situation. You can also talk about their friends at school in a similar way or characters in a book or movie. We can teach kids to have empathy for others by showing that we can identify with friends, family members, and even strangers on the street in various scenarios. Show your kids that you care about your neighbors and your community by talking about the feelings of compassion you have for them and acting on those feelings in a positive way.
Choose Joy: We all have our tough days but we can also make the conscious decision to choose joy. Share the little things that make you happy. Take a walk with your kids and talk about your day’s highs and lows and what makes you feel grateful. Show them that neither a brusque waiter nor a traffic jam has the power to throw you off kilter. Let them see how that the morning light, the book you just read, or a coffee date with a friend – whatever it is that makes you happy – can uplift and inject joy and meaning into our lives.
Who have been some of the best role models in your childhood, and what have they taught you? Share your stories with us in the comments below!Tags : parenting role models conscious parenting mindful parenting