This is the part two in our  July series about cultivating connection between parents and their children. You can read part one on creating intentional quality time here.   You can read part three on exploring connecting through child-led play here. You can read part four on connecting before correcting here. 

Asa Don Brown stated, “Children are like sponges, soaking up every verbal and non-verbal interaction.” This means children are constantly learning from the people, environments, and experiences around them. It’s important to note that learning includes not just the “good” or expected behaviors, but also those behaviors we do not want our children to repeat. Parent modeling, often referred to as parental modeling or role modeling, is the behavior exhibited by parents that children observe and often imitate. This concept is pivotal in the development of a child’s behavior, values, and attitudes.

Parent modeling occurs both consciously and unconsciously. Parents often model through emotional regulation, behavior responses, social skills, morals and values, work ethic, and lifestyle choices. These are just a few areas in which parents demonstrate how to feel and respond to various life situations. The following examples illustrate conscious and unconscious parent modeling and their impact on children.

Unconscious Parent Modeling

Unconscious parent modeling happens when parents exhibit behaviors and attitudes without realizing their impact on their children.

Stress Response: If a parent frequently responds to stress by yelling or becoming visibly anxious, the child may learn to react to stress similarly without either party being aware of the learning process.

Conflict Resolution: If a parent tends to withdraw and avoid discussing problems rather than addressing conflicts directly, a child observing this behavior might learn to avoid conflicts instead of resolving them.

Conscious Parent Modeling

Conscious parent modeling involves deliberate actions and behaviors by parents aimed at teaching specific lessons or values to their children.

Stress Response: After a stressful day at work, a parent might take a few deep breaths, change into comfortable clothes, and explain to their child, “I had a tough day at work, so I’m going to take a few minutes to relax. Then we can spend some time together.” This teaches children the importance of taking a moment to decompress and communicate their feelings.

Conflict Resolution: When parents have a disagreement about household chores, instead of arguing in front of the children, they might say, “Let’s talk about this privately and find a solution together.” Later, they explain to the children, “We had a disagreement, but we talked it through and came up with a plan we both agree on.” This teaches children that conflicts can be resolved through calm discussion and compromise.

Take a moment to think about how you respond to handling stress or dealing with conflicts. Do you see any similarities between your behavior and your child’s? While unconscious modeling is inevitable, parents can increase their awareness and attempt to make more of their behavior intentional. Here are five strategies for balancing conscious and unconscious parent modeling:

  1. Be Conscious of Actions: Recognize that children are always observing and learning from your behavior, no matter their age.
  2. Self-Reflection: Regularly reflect on your behaviors and attitudes to identify areas where you might be unconsciously modeling negative behaviors.
  3. Open Communication: Discuss actions and decisions with your children to help make unconscious modeling more conscious.
  4. Education and Growth: Seek resources and support to improve your emotional regulation, communication, and other skills you wish to model.
  5. Consistency: Consistently apply positive behaviors and address unconscious negative habits to reinforce good modeling.
  6. Apologize and Correct Mistakes: Demonstrate accountability by admitting and correcting mistakes, teaching children humility and responsibility.

By: Felicia Smith, LCSW

Felicia Smith is a therapist at Mathews Counseling. She currently taking new clients but space is limited. Request your appointment today! Learn more about Felicia here

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