An excerpt from the Coaching for Calm and Confidence™ Program
Whether we notice it or not, we are role models for our children. Certain things stress us out, frustrate us. We all at different points say, “I’ve had it.” We tend to lose patience and react to situations that directly relate to our own problem areas. Expressions like “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” mean that children tend to act like their parents. Science tells us that this is in part genetic and in part learned. Children pay close attention to how we behave when we are angry or upset. When we improve stress and frustration in a parent, anxiety, anger, and behavior problems improve in children.
It is important for parents to make a conscious decision regarding how to handle anger and frustration especially in front of children, and then practice those goals. We will not perfectly meet these goals, because who does anyway, but it is very important to be clear about how we want to improve if we want to be a positive role model for our children.
In addition, we need to ask our children to practice the positive behaviors we want them to demonstrate. Young children need to practice positive behaviors for them to understand and learn those behaviors. For instance, young children might not know what to do if a parent tells them to share. Sharing is an abstract concept. However, they do know how to act when a parent tells them that they can play with a toy until the 5-minute timer goes off, and then give the toy to their sibling to play with until the 5-minute timer goes off.
Older children may not need to demonstrate a positive behavior in order to understand a concept, but they certainly need to be expected to demonstrate a positive behavior both to make up for whatever they did wrong and to incorporate that positive behavior into their understanding of right and wrong. For example, if a child hits a sibling, they should be expected to say “I’m sorry, will you forgive me.” The sibling needs to respond “yes, I forgive you.” Children need to make these statements with a sincere tone even though they may not fully feel sincere about the apology. Over time children will internalize these positive behaviors into their concept of right and wrong. Expecting children to fix situations by showing positive behaviors also teaches children how to act and makes them think twice the next time they want to engage in the bad behavior. You can see that this requires hands-on attention. However, attention such as this will spare you much more attention that you’d later have to give to bad behavior.