We all have models of how we do things. Over the course of our lives we learn how to be a husband or wife, father or mother, friend, etc from what we have been modeled. Nuclear families are not always the norm any more so I am going to write this very generally. For the most part fathers learn how to be a father based on what they saw their father do (a model) and the same is true of mothers, wives, and husbands. This is one of the reasons I normally ask couples in pre-marital counseling to imagine what kind of problems might arise if they could imagine the groom’s father married to the bride’s mother because there is a good chance those dynamics will be similar to the dynamics of this couple when they get married. We do what we know and we know what has been modeled for us. Why do people who were physically abused as a child have a higher likelihood of abusing their children? They don’t want to do that to their children but a fairly high percentage do because that was the parenting style that was modeled for them. Modeling is powerful.
There is good news and there is bad news. If you had good models growing up there is a higher likelihood that you will have a healthier parenting style. If your models were pretty poor then it is going to take a more concentrated effort to parent effectively (of course that is a generalization). One reason for that is called homeostasis is a word that basically means by default we will tend to revert back to a consistent pattern of behavior. That pattern of behavior is usually what we were modeled growing up. But the important piece of information is that we are not doomed to repeat our past. We can change it. To parent in a way different than how your parents did it is very hard and takes an intense amount of effort and will power to break the mold and consistently do things in a different way. Those who didn’t have the best models often have to get past their past. They have to gain momentum to jump over the hurdle of poor parenting styles they were modeled during their childhood. This is an important reminder for parents. The track you set for your child in how you parent and discipline them will likely continue on for many more generations. It is important that you parent effectively because if you don’t, the effects can be seen for years after you die.
How do you get past your past and become a healthy role model for your children?
1) Identify the positive things your parents taught you about how to be a good parent. They probably never sat down and said, “This is what it takes to be a good parent…” but you know what these things are because you know what was effective in how they parented you.
2) Identify the negative things your parents taught you that were not good parenting skills. These must be identified and discussed with your spouse to give you support to make sure they are extinguished from your parenting repertoire. If your spouse had a tough childhood try to encourage them when you can tell they are really trying to break from their past.
3) Remember, children are constantly watching and learning. Children are active observers. Like little sponges of learning they are constantly soaking up information from their parents ranging from what to do when you get angry to how to deal with other people.
4) Children do what they know. That is called imitation. How do they know what they know? They learned from their role model – the parent. We often think of a role model as something healthy and it can be. Parents need to be aware that through their modeling children learn positive and negative behaviors. Be mindful that how you deal with stress, frustration, anger, obstacles, and how you deal with others are all observed an often imitated by your children.
5) Teach your child healthy conflict resolution. Many couples do not disagree in front of the children. I understand the sentiment but children also need to learn that it can be healthy to have a mature and controlled disagreement. How else are they ever going to learn conflict resolution if their parents don’t model it for them?
6) Children want consistency. If you are loving one moment and angry and screaming the next that doesn’t send your child a healthy signal and certainly does not contribute to giving them a healthy sense of self and well-being. Be calm and consistent even when they make you angry. Remember they are watching and if you deal with them in an angry way, chances are they will carry on that behavior into their future.
To read more posts from this series:
The Power of Positive Parenting
Understanding Functional Behavior
The Power of Attention
Dealing with Non-compliance and Commands
7 Rules for Consistent Parenting