A Series on Modeling: How Children Learn

Have you ever worried about saying or doing something in front of a child that you knew you shouldn’t? We all have our weaknesses. Sometimes we (I really mean I) can’t help ourselves from cursing when someone cuts us off on the road or sneaking one too many of those brownies we baked for the kids. Who doesn’t have those totally human moments? Trying to be the “perfect” adult model for children constantly is impossible. At the same time, it’s daunting to know that children are observing us, learning from us and becoming just like us. At times the responsibility can feel overwhelming. Luckily, life gets busy and we rarely stop to think of just how closely our children are watching and listening to us. But what if we took a moment to think about what children are consciously and unconsciously learning from us? What would come to mind?

In my first post of this three post series on modeling, I touch on the significant role that we play in what our children learn. In my next post, I share an activity to help us reflect on what we model to our children and how we do it.

How Children Learn

Children are watching everything we do and listening to everything we say. They are also absorbing ALL the experiences around them with an effortless ease, not always discerning good from bad. They are learning from all the adults that surround them, from parents and teachers to family and friends.

So how do we teach our children everything that we want them to learn?

Well, we first need to make sure that we are doing “it” ourselves. Children learn by watching and then repeating, so the best way to teach them is to show them. We need to follow the, “Practice, don’t preach” mindset. In this case, it would be “Model, don’t explain/lecture/command/instruct” (you get the idea).

The more that we model consistent behavior and language to young children, the more their sponge like brain will absorb our consistent messages. Modeling and consistency are key in this equation of what children will learn and how they will behave. We also need to give children space to repeat what they have seen and find that delicate balance of encouraging what we have modeled without pushing them to do it.

We need to model those qualities that we want our children to have. If we want them to be kind, respectful, compassionate, hardworking and creative, we need to model those qualities through our own actions and words. For example, we need to say, “Please” and “Thank you,” if we want our children to say “Please” and “Thank you.” Children will hold us to the standard that we hold them. And there’s nothing like a reminder from a child when we have been caught being inconsistent. Children respect adults who are consistent and fair. This respect turns into trust. And when you have trust, you can teach your child anything. As soon as the respect is lost, children stop listening and teaching moments are lost.

Of course we can’t be “perfect” at every moment nor should we be. We should model how to handle all the different situations that life throws at us. We need to model how we handle a bad day, a frustrating moment, and what we do when something doesn’t go as we had expected. We need to model real life, because our children are going to experience real life very soon and we want them to be prepared.

So yes, we will have those brownie eating, road rage moments (because that’s real life) and we will also have a million other awesome learning moments as we model real life to our children. The important lesson is to be aware and accountable of what we are modeling.

In my next post, I share an activity to get us thinking about how to model awesomeness to our children and how to get the whole family involved.

Keep Well, S