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Parent-Child Modeling: “Do As I Say, Not As I Do”

We may not say these words, but we think them. We somehow expect our children to ignore what they see and only do what they hear. That would be great, but it doesn’t usually happen. Kids pick up on what we do. It’s called parent-child modeling.

When you develop a good relationship with your kids, one that is built on trust and connection, you will find they actually follow what you say more often than you think. It ends up being about respect. Parenting is about building a relationship. Relationships require trust. They also require time. All relationships are built on trust and time.

Speaking of parent-child modeling, the other day I did something unusual. My mom taught us not to eat before dinner. I think most moms teach that. Well, just before starting dinner, I walked into the kitchen, looked at my two teens, approached the freezer and proceeded to take out the ice cream container. As I did that, I said, “Don’t do this. Ignore me. You did not see this.” I giggled because I knew that was an invitation for them to jump in and join me (although they didn’t). We laughed at how imperfect parents are. We are human too!

When I went to rinse off my spoon, I noticed the dishes in the sink. I said, “Guys, these dishes need to be in the dishwasher, not in the sink.” Then I said, “I’ve done a great job teaching you how to pile dishes in the sink. Now let’s practice loading them into the dishwasher.” That was actually the truth! I have done a great job teaching them to put dishes in the sink by modeling that; stopping just shy of getting them into the dishwasher. Now I find myself wanting the next step.

The reason I share this story is because if we are honest with ourselves, we’ve probably taught our kids most of what we like and don’t like in their behaviors, by our modeling. The hard part is if we want them to stop doing something we have already modeled, we are going to need to be twice as consistent and go twice the distance to model the new behavior. Words are definitely not going to be enough to make that change. Why? Because they are not only learning a new behavior, they are unlearning an old one. We need to be their example. We need to lead the way.

When you want to change a behavior, try these suggestions:

  1. If you are modeling the behavior you don’t like, admit it.   
  2. Make a decision to stop modeling what you don’t want and to start modeling what you do want. This is not about lecturing or nagging (words); it’s about taking action to do something different.
  3. Give them time to shift. Chances are, you will be inconsistent at first too.

Things don’t usually change overnight. Keep modeling and supporting with love, and you will get there. For support on this or any other concern at home, schedule a complimentary 15-minute consultation at 951-240-1407 or via email

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