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Children See, Children Do: How to Model Good Behaviour to Your Children

Image of Children See, Children Do: How to Model Good Behaviour to Your Children

The saying “monkey see, monkey do” holds some truth with respect to one’s upbringing.  I have a good friend who has worked as a pre-school teacher for a good 40 years of her life.  She once told me that she could guess how a child’s parents are like based on his or her behaviour.  Initially, I was puzzled by what she meant.  However, upon further reflection, she may be right!

Research has shown that human beings are born with an innate capacity to imitate.  Imitation by infants and toddlers is how learning takes place in the early years.  As our young ones grow up, they continue to learn from all the adults they interact with.  This includes our manners, coping methods and problem-solving strategies.

Instead of thinking about how to prevent problematic behaviours in our children, have we considered encouraging good behaviour? Rather than saying ‘no’ to this or that unruly behaviour, can we go beyond verbal recommendation to modelling the right behaviour?

Good behaviour, such as being kind, considerate, obedient and respectful, reflect values that need to be taught and caught.  Here are 2 simple ways we can model these desirable behaviours to our children:

  1. Model Self-Regulation. When we are stressed or angry, we can teach our children about keeping calm and processing our feelings instead of complaining or lashing out with hurtful remarks.  This incidental teaching can start with us labelling the feeling we are experiencing.  In this way, we are also helping our children learn the right vocabulary to communicate their feelings effectively.  With younger children, we can say, “Mommy is feeling worried now. Please help mommy calm down by taking 10 deep breaths with me.” With older children, we can say calmly, “Mommy is stressed out. Give me 10 minutes and I’ll attend to you in 10 minutes.”

  2. Model Care. When our children feel sad or angry, we can help them label their emotion and show that we notice and are concerned for them. We can say, “It looks like you are feeling sad. Would you like to talk about it?”.  In this way, we not only show our care, but also open the way for them to share their problems with us.

Something about Mary

Mary (pseudonym), a working mother of two school-going children, 8 and 10, faced tremendous pressure at work.  When she came home, Mary needed space to process her thoughts and emotions.  Her children would run to greet her as she stepped into their home; they wanted to talk to her, to share what happened at school.  She would shout at them to leave her alone and this would lead to tantrums, and the entire situation would escalate with Mary shouting louder.

After some practice with the parenting coach, Mary held her emotions in check when she came home.  Instead of shouting in response to the children, she stooped to the children’s eye level, and said to them gently, “I’m so happy to see you, too! But I’m feeling tired now. Could you boys let Mommy have some time to rest first? Can we talk after dinner?” The two boys were disappointed, but they understood and accepted their mother’s request.

Mary realised that when she chose to talk calmly to her children, she was, in fact, teaching her children to:

  1. regulate emotion and remain calm even when she is feeling tired and stressed;

  2. verbally express her feelings of tiredness and make her need for rest known;

  3. avoid escalation.

By modelling for her children, Mary is not only showing them that good behaviour is possible even when one is feeling tired or stressed, but she is also encouraging them to adopt similar behaviours for themselves.

Written by Lily Ching, Counsellor, Fei Yue Community Services


MELTZOFF, ANDREW N N. (1999). Born to Learn: What Infants Learn from Watching Us. In Fox & J.G. Worhol (Eds.), The Role of Early Experience in Infant Development, Skillman. (pp 1-10). NJ: Pediatric Institute Publications, 1999.  Retrieved June 18, 2020, from http://ilabs.washington.edu/meltzoff/pdf/99Meltzoff_BornToLearn.pdf

Nauert, Rick (2019, June 15). Modeling Behavior for Children Has Long-Lasting Effects.   https://psychcentral.com/news/2018/05/27/modeling-behavior-for-children-has-long-lasting-effects/14139.html

Sanders, M. R., Dadds, C. M., & Turner, K. M. (2013). Positive Parenting: Triple P Positive Parenting Solutions. The University of Queensland.