There is no doubt that children are little sponges. Even though it seems like we spend most of our time trying to get them to listen to us and pay attention to what we ask them to do, they are there, absorbing what we say and do. Anyone who has ever turned beet red with embarrassment after our child uttered an unfortunately-timed swear word can testify to the fact that children are paying far more attention to what we do than they let on.
Recent research even confirms this, finding that our behaviour can influence every part of our children’s development, from social skills to physical health to moral development. While children often look up to celebrities, athletes, and super heroes, as a parent, you are your child’s first and most important role model. Here are four key ways that your behaviour can affect your child’s development.
How we see and talk about our bodies can directly impact how our children see themselves. Children even as young as three can begin to develop negative body images, and although it tends to impact female children more than males, some male children do develop a poor body image.
As a parent, if we are constantly talking about dieting or complaining that our stomach is too big or our butt isn’t perfect or we are afraid to get into a swimsuit because we feel we don’t look good enough, our children can begin to believe that there is such thing as a perfect body and that only perfect bodies are worthy of love and acceptance. On the contrary, when we practice accepting our bodies and making choices becuase they are healthy rather than because they help us look better in a bikini, we are teaching our children to respect and honor their bodies and make choices to be healthier.
If you are a child of the 1980s or 1990s, you likely remember the famous anti-drug PSA where a father is asking his son where he learned to do drugs. The son looks into his father’s eyes and says “I learned it from watching you”. Whether we like it or not, our children’s decision to smoke, drink, or use drugs is intricately tied to our decision to use those substances. Addiction is generational and children of parents with substance abuse disorders tend to use drugs as teenagers or adults. Likewise, parents who don’t smoke, drink or use drugs send the message to their children that life can be enjoyed without using dangerous substances.
If you do happen to suffer from drug abuse or alcoholism, the best thing you can do for you and your child is to seek help. In doing so, not only will you save your own life, but you will be able to be a better parent. In addition, you will be a great role model for your child, showing them that sometimes we face hard things in life but we can make the choice to work hard and overcome obstacles. You will also show them that mistakes don’t define you – it is what you do to overcome them that will.
Researchers from the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business found that the single most significant factor in determining our work ethic is the work ethic of our parents. Children who see their parents as hard-working, able to solve problems, and in a career they love learn to see work as fulfilling and meaningful. They also learn to solve problems using critical thinking and hard work rather than assuming that difficult problems just can’t be solved.
Likewise, parents that complain about their jobs day in and day out or who tend to back out of committments teach their children that hard work is a hassle, something to dislike, or perhaps even something to avoid altogether.
Kindness and Manners
Finally, as the key people in our children’s lives, we are responsible for teaching our children how to interact with those around us. Parents who are aggressive or violent in their relationships teach children to respond to others similarly. Likewise, children learn to respect others by watching their parents. Moreover, children learn who is worthy of respect by watching their parents. If you treat your restaurant servers, trash collectors, the person in a wheelchair at the store, and the homeless man on the street with kindness and respect, your children will learn that all people have value and are worthy of respect. If you yell at a server because your order is wrong or use hateful language to describe a religion, disability, culture, sexual orientation, or way of life, children will grow up replicating that behaviour.
As you can see, your behaviour has an important impact on your children and the way they navigate the world. This is good news though – if we want our children to do good in the world, we have the power to model that behaviour for them. When we look at our children, we can truly “be the change you want to see in the world”.
Patrick Bailey is a professional writer mainly in the fields of mental health, addiction, and living in recovery. He attempts to stay on top of the latest news in the addiction and the mental health world and enjoy writing about these topics to break the stigma associated with them.
Guest post by Patrick Bailey