Becoming a good role model for your kids is vitally important if you want them to become the adults that you hope they will be. It’s also challenging in many ways. It involves consciously making yourself an example of the way you hope they will live their lives.

From the time you smile at your baby and he returns your smile to when you wave goodbye as he leaves home to live independently, your child watches your every move and constantly mimics you. He copies your behavior and values, your quirks and personality traits. He may hold his head a certain way. He may gesture the same way your partner does. Even after you have passed away, your voice is in his head repeating phrases he’s heard you say as he grew up. Most of all, his values and attitudes to his world will likely be those you have taught him if you are a strong role model.

What can you do to become the kind of role model you’d like your kids to follow? There are four steps to take that will get you on the right track:

1. PICTURE THE ADULT YOU WANT YOUR CHILD TO BE

It’s important to sit down with your partner and think about what you’d like to see in your kids as they mature and become adults. Do you want them to be honest? Do you want them to be rule-benders or law-abiders? Do you want them to use profanity? What kind of manners should you teach them? Do you want them to be generous and caring toward others? Will they embrace diversity or judge people on their race, social status, religion or sexual orientation? How do you want them to treat members of the opposite sex? What about the way they would handle anger or disappointment? Their attitude toward money is influenced by how you talk about it and use it. Do you want them to live on a budget or carry a large balance on their credit cards? These topics and more should be talked through together until you have a list of characteristics that you think are important.

When you have a picture in your mind of what you’d like your child to be as an adult, you have a goal to work towards. Be sure to write down the qualities you wish for and keep the list where you can easily refer to it. You can then develop a plan to reach your goal. The next step is to look at yourself critically and honestly assess the way you think and act. Are you modeling what you want your children to learn?

2. ASSESS YOUR ACTIONS AND DAILY BEHAVIOR

Do the way you go through your day and the views you express out loud match the picture you have formed of what you want for your adult children? If not, look at where there are differences. Can you see the conflict that develops when you criticize their messy rooms when your kitchen sink is full of dirty dishes? What about when you come out with a swear word but punish them for swearing? If you make comments about your neighbors or gossip about friends or family in front of the kids, you’re establishing a double standard if you criticize them for doing the same. If you want them to be honest, refrain from telling lies or fudging the truth. Be a good role model.

Being a good listener, respecting them as people, looking them in the eyes when you’re having a conversation – all are ways you can show them they’re important and that you love them.

Making life enjoyable and fun is important. Do you have a good time as a family? What sorts of activities would promote family good will and be pleasurable? Do you like to tell jokes and laugh?

Sit with your partner and examine the areas that need to be modified. Again, write them down so you don’t forget them. Make a note of the personal changes you want to make.

3. MAKE CORRECTIONS IN YOUR BEHAVIOR TO BE IN LINE WITH YOUR HOPES FOR YOUR KIDS

Your children will do what you do. If you jay-walk, they will too, even after you’ve taught them to cross at the crosswalk. If you use swear words or have bad habits, so will they. Keep referring to your goals and make changes that are aligned with them. If you have several huge changes to make, it won’t be easy, but start with one or two major areas and work on them first. For example, if you’re never on time, you’re teaching them to be late. Make a concerted effort to reverse your lateness and plan your time better. Obviously you’ll trip up at times. No one is perfect! You’ll likely find that they will catch you up once in awhile and enjoy telling you about it! But when you stumble, you can apologize to them and correct yourself. It’s important for them to see how an apology can ease a tense situation.

4. BE CONSISTENT AND DON’T GIVE UP

Remember that habits are formed by repetition. It will get easier. Be as conscious as possible about the choices you make and know that you’re establishing a foundation for your kids’ adult lives. They are following your lead at every turn.

In the teen years, your child will rebel against some of your ideas. She is preparing to be independent and will want to make her own choices. You can be open to hearing her opinions and can discuss them with her in an understanding way so that your communication channels stay open. Meanwhile, continue to be the role model she has always known.

From infancy through teen years and into adulthood, you can guide and teach your children by using yourself as a model of what you’re hoping they will choose as a way to navigate the world and live their lives. You’ll be glad you did. It’s worth the work and the effort!

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