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Your kids are watching you! Print E-mail

Sunday, 14 August 2011 00:00

Written by Rebecca Scarlett

Do As I Say, Not As I Do!  The pitfalls of “verbal parenting” and how to avoid them. 

You work hard to make sure your children have the resources they need to succeed in school and life. You try your best to teach your children the lessons they need to learn to become successful, productive adults. It’s the lessons you’re not trying to teach, however, that may have the most impact.

Evidence overwhelmingly suggests that children’s behaviour reflects the behaviour of their parents, regardless what parents verbally teach their children. A study done at King’s College found that the only parental behaviour that actually steered children towards healthy eating habits was the parents eating well themselves, and that parental efforts to control what their children ate had virtually no effect on the children’s eating habits. (see article)

What this suggests is that your children are not listening to you nearly as well as they are watching you. The study concluded that modelling appropriate behaviour was far more effective than telling children what to eat (verbal parenting).

This affect occurs with more than just food. When children witness violence or high levels of adversity in the home, even when they are not the targets, they show problem behaviour as early as toddlerhood, and this behaviour persists into childhood and adolescence. (see article)

This evidence demonstrates that “verbal parenting” (telling your children which behaviour is best rather than consistently modelling that behaviour) can result in unwanted behaviour in children.

Information like this can easily make parents feel judged. It is impossible to be the perfect role model, and you shouldn’t despair if you occasionally fall short of your expectations. Remain positive, and treat these situations as the learning opportunities that they are. Have a conversation with your young child about why it was wrong for “Mommy to yell at Daddy” and ask him what he thinks you could do better next time. Now you’ve given your child a proactive role is choosing appropriate behaviour! Of course, you’ll have to try hard to change your behaviour next time, because that’s what will give your children the motivation to change their own negative behaviours.

Consider these findings to be good news. Now you don’t have to worry if you don’t have excellent teaching skills, or can’t think of ways to reason with your children to convince them to behave. All you have to do is behave yourself, and your children will follow along.



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