A Series on Modeling: Tips on Modeling Language and Behavior

In my second post of this three post series on modeling, I shared an activity to help us reflect on what and how we model to our children and our family. After doing the activity, my hope is that you feel inspired and empowered, knowing what awesomeness you currently are modeling to your family and what awesome qualities you are planning to model. In my final post of this series, I’ll go past the theory and share practical insights into some of my favorite tips and what I’ve learned along the way in my own journey of modeling language and behavior. I’ll also share some of the behavioral pitfalls that us adults have a tendency to gravitate to, so that you can break the cycle.

Tips on Modeling Language and Behavior

The below tips are from my own experiences in the modeling journey. Some are also lessons that I was taught by children reminding me just how kind, strong and forgiving they can be.

Model humility

Knowing when you are in the wrong and when to say sorry isn’t the easiest thing for most people. Isn’t that partially because apologizing for a mistake isn’t necessarily modeled to us when we are children? How often did you hear an adult apologize when you were a child? Knowing when to say you are sorry and give a genuine apology is an invaluable experience for a child. You are modeling how to lower your pride and ego and be honest when you’ve made a mistake. The respect you feel from children after a genuine apology is also priceless.

Model how to manage different feelings

Children learn how to manage their feelings from the adults around them. It’s important we model what children can do when they are feeling happy, sad, lonely, tired, frustrated, upset, etc. If we want our children to speak to us nicely even when they are frustrated, then we need to speak nicely to those around us when we are frustrated. If we want our children to rest when they feel tired, then we need to rest when we feel tired. We can also reinforce our actions by stating them to our children. For example, one could say, “I am going to rest in my room now because I feel very tired. I may close my eyes and rest or I may read a book. You can play quietly in your room or read a book and rest too.”

Be aware of tone and body language

Modeling language is one thing, but we also need to be mindful of our tone and our body language when we speak to and in front of our children. Children listen to our words and our tone and will repeat what they have heard. If we use a sweet and genuine tone, they will likely repeat it. If we say something rudely and sarcastically, they will imitate this as well.

Be genuine and authentic

Children know when we are being genuine. If our tone or facial expressions do not match our words, then our words don’t mean anything. For example, if we say, “Thank you” with a sarcastic tone, they will know that we do not mean it. Children are extremely observant and sensitive and will know what we really mean regardless of what we say. They will read between the lines at a very young age.

Don’t speak about children in front of them

We don’t speak about our peers like they aren’t there, so why do we constantly do this with children? Children hear everything that we say about them even when we don’t think they are listening. We may not be directly communicating with our children but they are hearing our words and those words have an impact. They hear the positive and negative ways that we describe them (shy, outgoing, picky eater, loud, etc.). They are going to live up to the expectations that we create for them.

Empower them to speak

We speak so often on behalf of our children. Instead, let’s encourage them to use their words. It’s a delicate balance between encouraging them to express themselves and not pressuring them to speak. A good example of this is when we force our children to greet a guest. We can model how to greet a guest and then invite our children to greet the guest giving them the space to do so.

Be consistent and fair

If you want your children to look at you and make eye contact when they speak with you then do it with them and do it with your partner. If you want your child to make her bed every morning, then you make your bed every morning. If you want your child to remove his shoes when he enters the house, then you remove your shoes. They will watch you to make sure that you are consistent and fair. I’ll never forget when a child saw me carrying several things in the hall and said to me, “One at a time Ms. Sandra.” I had been caught. I was supposed to carry one item at a time because that is what was asked of the children at school. He was absolutely right to call me out.

Keep it simple

If there is a change you want to make in how and what you model, pick one change to make at a time. It’s easy to get overwhelmed and feel like we are doing everything wrong with our children. We are not. Of course there is always room for growth. So just pick one thing and start from there.

Be patient and understand the process

Know that changes do not usually happen overnight and it takes some time, a lot of consistency and a whole lot of patience. Eventually, the change will become the norm. Wait for these moments and relish them. I once worked with a child who would stand up from the table with his work in his hands and knock over his chair every time. I was persistent in showing him how to stand up, push his chair in and then carry his work back to the shelf. It was exhausting at some points but the consistency paid off and eventually he was teaching other children to push their chairs in.

Remember to be kind with yourself and with your children. I would love to hear from you. How did you enjoy the series on modeling? What other topics are you interested in reading more about?

Keep well, S