The old adage, “Do as I say, Not as I do,” has not worked in the past and certainly does not work today, when children are exposed to a plethora of ideas, styles and limitless options they can sample.
The term role model was introduced by Robert K. Merton, a distinguished American sociologist best known for having coined the phrase “self-fulfilling prophecy.” Merton posits that individuals compare themselves with “reference groups” comprised of people, who occupy the social role to which the individual aspires. The term has passed into general use to mean any person who sets an example. Eda LeShan, a family counselor and author about parenting, posits: “The only way to raise a decent human being is by being one.” These two observers are correct. What children become has to do with the example set by those who raise them. “Monkey see; monkey do.”
Konrad Z. Lorenz demonstrated how incubator-hatched geese would imprint on the first suitable moving stimulus they saw within what he called a “critical period” of about 36 hours shortly after hatching. Filial imprinting is not restricted to animals that are able to follow their parents. In child development the term is used to refer to the process by which a baby learns who his/her mother and father are. The process is recognized as beginning in the womb, when the unborn baby starts to recognize its parents’ voices (Kisilevsky et al, 2003). This imprinting is further imbued as the child observes and experiences the parent’s behavior, habits, tone of voice, body language, etc.
Parents are the first role model (reference group) a child has. If you doubt the importance of teaching by example, think about your own childhood. How were you influenced to become the person you are-for better or for worse? Does what you learned in school have the most influence on your personality? Were your peers and other adults the most influential? Were you influenced more by movies or television than your parents and family members? How are you like your dad? How are you like your mother? We often hear the comment, “He married a woman just like his mother.” “She married a man just like her father.” There is a reason people make this poignant observation.
Parents Role Model:
– Social skills. Social skills and attitudes are taught by example. A child learns good manners more easily when “please” and “thank you” are part of daily life.
– Respect for others. When parents show respect to each other, their children and others; Children learn how to value themselves, other people and institutions.
– Do it yourself. Consistency between teaching and example is very important. If you want to teach your child a behavior, but you behave in a different or opposite way yourself, your child will become confused and frustrated as to what to do and whom to believe. In order to teach a behavior you need to model it. Famous child psychiatrist, Fritz Redl posits the three most important things you will ever need to know about raising children are: “Example, example, example.”
– Home environment. Children not only unconsciously imitate the behavior of their parents, but they also absorb the general atmosphere of the home. A child who lives in a home filled with love, affection, and cooperation can more easily show love, affection and cooperation to others.
– Positive Approach. Focus attention on what your child does right. Reward good behavior and ignore or give consequences for unacceptable behavior. Threats and spanking only teaches your child that violence (power over) is acceptable.
Chicago News columnist Sydney J. Harris wrote, “When parents talk about discipline, they mean a rigid set of rules to prevent their children from misbehaving. But the only discipline worthy of the name lies in providing a solid framework of ideals-not for the child to live up to, but for the parents to live within. You can beat children until they are black and you are blue, but it cannot make them any better than the examples they see around them every day.”
– Teach instead of lecturing:.Practice what you preach.. Modeling is more effective when we talk about what we are doing and why. Explaining the importance of doing what is right or that you share the responsibility for making your community a better place to live and that is why you go to meetings, helps your children understand your reasoning and relate your activities to their own behavior.
This is not to say that parents need to be perfect. We all lose our tempers sometimes, say things we regret, are not as kind as we would like to be, or do things we wished we had not. It is reassuring to know that it is the general trend in our behavior that influences our children, not the isolated instances of less than stellar behavior. We are human; so are our children. Being perfects is not a requirement. What is important is to admit your mistakes, apologize and cease the unacceptable behavior, and role model how to make amends for your shortcomings. ##
Robert K. Merton (July 4,1910 – February 23, 2003) was an American sociologist. He spent the majority of his career teaching at Columbia University. He is best known for coining the terms, “role model” and “self-fulfilling prophecy.”
Konrad Z. Lorenz, PhD (1903-1989), Animal psychologist did significant work in physiology of animal behavior and on the development of social relationships, particularly imprinting. He also explored the relationship between animal behavior and human sociology.
Barbara S. Kisilevsky, PhD, research on Effects of experience on fetal voice recognition. Psychological Science, 14, 220-224. Kisilevsky et al, 2003.