Healthy parents want their children to surpass them. Biologically we are primed to take this evolutionary initiative to strengthen our genetic codes for the next generation. We achieve this through a variety of parenting techniques that hone our children’s skills and abilities and diminish their weaknesses.
Discipline is one of the most widely used techniques that can be effective in decreasing negative behaviors while positive reinforcement has been a relatively new approach developed by behaviorists that can increase positive behaviors along with overall self-esteem.
While these techniques are quite useful, they can be very tricky to balance. We know as parents that too much negative discipline could leave our children feeling anxious, sad, and constricted. Yet we also know that too little discipline and excess reinforcement can allow our children to act wildly, recklessly, and inconsiderately and develop narcissistic tendencies.
For these reasons it helps to diversify. Much like an investment, we cannot keep all our eggs in one basket. An incredibly effective parenting technique that is a supplement to discipline and reinforcement is modeling.
Modeling allows us to show our children what we value through our actions.
At all times even when we least expect it, our children are observing and watching us to learn about themselves, family dynamics, and the way of the world. There is nothing more powerful than modeling for our children healthy and appropriate behavior based on our own values.
It is important to keep in mind that before we as parents set guidelines for our children, we need to ask ourselves what guidelines do we live by that we are modeling for our children. Before we ask our children to do something, we need to make sure we do it ourselves (with some exceptions).
Here are some areas in which the tool of modeling can be particularly useful.
Oftentimes parents complain that their children are on their electronics excessively. Research consistently correlates the addictive effects of technology and that is why we as parents feel the need to monitor and limit our children’s use of tablets, iPhones, and general screen time.
In conjunction with setting guidelines for our children, it is quite impactful when we set guidelines for ourselves. Are we on our phones checking texts while our children are telling us about their day? Are we browsing through Facebook, shopping online, or sorting our pictures through dinner time? Children pick up on these habits and learn to develop similar ones; they learn to value what we value.
Our deepest values oftentimes are reflected in the force that propels us to act. So if we feel compelled to check our phones every seven minutes, our children learn that we value our phones so much so that we need to check it that frequently.
To create more of a balance between on and off screen times, we can create a screen time policy for ourselves and our families. We can communicate to our children that during dinner we keep our phones off and in another room. We can also make a policy that before bedtime, all phones need to be charged in the kitchen as studies have proven that screen light interferes with adequate quality sleep. For more ideas on how to create this balance, enjoy this incredibly informative Ted Talk by motivational speaker, author, and consultant Simon Sinek.
When is your bedtime? According to Rabbi Lawrence Kelemen, author of parenting book To Kindle A Soul, the existence and implementation of bedtime for parents can directly affect the existence and implementation of our children’s bedtimes. If our children wake up in the middle of the night and see us staying up late, they get the unspoken message that sleep is just not as important at a certain age. They come to view sleep as less of a health necessity and more of an optional chore.
Conversely, when our children know that no matter what we are in bed at a set time and we put a premium on sleep much like we do hydration and nutrition, they learn that rest is an integral part of healthy living.
Worried that your child struggles with self-esteem and confidence? Watch what you say to yourself. Children can easily pick up on how we refer to our own selves in conversations. Saying things like “I can't believe I forgot about that, I’m so stupid” or “why do I always do these things!?” are quickly heard and integrated into the psyches and value systems of our children. They learn that mistakes are fatal and that they are tied to self-worth rather than a simple error in action or judgement that can be tweaked and corrected.
When our children hear us say "oops I goofed, let me fix that" or "not my best day, let me take a breather and try again tomorrow" they learn forgiveness, flexibility, and the prioritizing of effort rather than outcome and results.
We live in a world with incredible emphasis on physical beauty, dieting, and fitness, and along with all of this staggering rates of obesity. Cultivating a healthy body image as adults is hard enough; cultivating it for our children is even harder especially if we were to model the very behavior we find a struggle. It is all too common to hear and say despondent remarks like “I am so fat, I can't even look at myself, I need to go on a diet, nothing looks good on me."
When we make these comments to ourselves, we hurt ourselves as they generally do not motivate us to pursue healthier lifestyles and instead propel us into hopelessness and self-loathing. When we make these comments in front of our children or if our children overhear us talking to our friends, they learn that this kind of abusive self-talk is acceptable as long as we say it about ourselves and not others. They then naturally examine their own bodies, observe their own flaws, and perceive them to be tied to their own worth and desirability in society. This does not leave much room for learning the virtues of struggle, growth, forgiveness, or understanding.
To develop a healthy body image for our children we must practice self-acceptance and then our children in turn can sense this acceptance. We can suppress our urge to self-deprecate and instead find some physical attribute we deem pleasing. We can also teach our children to tie their worth into the totality of who they are which includes their actions, character traits, beliefs, and abilities as well as their proclivity to forgive, learn from mistakes, and act with perseverance. When we practice appreciating the sum of who we are, we walk, talk, and interact differently. Our children sense this and learn to value themselves the same way we value ourselves.
Children develop healthy sexuality when their sense of touch and sensuality are nurtured. Though children are not born knowing what sex is, they do innately grasp the concept of touch and sensuality. In its purest definition, sensuality can be understood as a pleasurable experience of the senses, and children naturally explore and learn in a tactile, concrete manner. Allowing our children to engage their senses, including touch, helps them cultivate sensuality and at the appropriate age feel comfortable exploring their senses in a sexual realm.
As we know from numerous tragic studies on children in orphanages who did not experience sufficient human contact, touch is essential to human development and children crave this essentiality. When this natural need is nurtured children can more easily develop healthy sexuality. However, when children are told enough times “no you can’t sit on my lap,” “stop touching that,” or “quit making a mess” they receive the message that exploration is bad, and touch should be heavily limited. They learn to suppress their natural need for touch and this can adversely affect their sexual lives as adults.
Allow them to explore their environment and yes, even make messes. Do activities with them that involve use of different senses such as cooking, baking, playing with play dough, eating a favorite dish, and swimming. Teach how to express appreciation for our bodies. Acknowledge when something feels good or pleasing to the touch like a hot bath or the smell of a homemade dinner.