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Make Parents Great (Role Models) Again
Your Behavior Shapes Your Child's Future
As a society, we often refer to our children as "the future”, and thus we hold the youth up as the embodiment of hope, possibility, and potential.
As important as it is to invest time and energy into their health, education, and surroundings, most forget one vital factor when it comes to what will best help children: the influence of parents, particularly the example they set, will have the greatest impact on the performance of these little humans with unlimited potential to shape the times yet to pass.
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As parents, our behaviors, words, and attitudes will shape our children's lives, helping or hindering their development in countless ways.
In this piece, we'll take a look at the importance of parents setting a healthy example for their children, and I’ll offer some advice for those looking to start down this path.
The Power of Modeling
Children are perceptive and malleable - they take in everything you say and do, then internalize the lessons shown. As such, your behavior, attitudes, and words can profoundly affect your child's life, both for the good and the bad.
A child who sees their parents smoking is more likely to start smoking themselves.
A child who sees their parents binge on junk food is more likely to develop unhealthy eating habits.
Conversely, a child who observes their parents exercising and eating healthy foods is more likely to adopt these behaviors themselves. Most important is that the habits displayed are followed up with shared reasoning and logic; let your children know why you are the way you are. If you can’t (don’t want to) explain your negative behaviors, it’s time you address why you’re still exhibiting them, knowing full well it’s impacting your children’s potential in a negative way.
Example > Advice
Both mothers and fathers have an incredible power to influence their son’s and daughters’ lives shaping habits, beliefs, and lifestyles.
Parental role models must take responsibility for the messages they send to their children, not just in terms of what they speak but also in terms of their displayed behaviors and attitudes. Your children will do what you do, not what you tell them they should do. If we’re to look at the bigger picture, it’s here that we will see why so many families are struggling; most parents want their children to be better people than themselves.
Healthy Role Models = Healthy Children
When parents model healthy habits and behaviors, their children are more likely to adopt them as well, setting their future up for a lifetime of good health and positive choices. This isn’t vaguery or broad brushstroke advice I’m offering, I live this.
I’ve spoken to my children about my sobriety, I share with them why I lift, I told them exactly why I was getting another job, and I’ve explained the how and why of my past to my present in an age-appropriate fashion.
Here are just a few ways in which mindful modeling can benefit your children:
Brain Development: Young children need healthy stimulation from their parents to develop their cognitive abilities. Reading and engaging in dialogue with your children is an excellent way to encourage language development and critical thinking skills. Speaking to your children, not like babies but rather small humans, will have you setting them up to develop into functional adults who have their lives together.
Social Learning: Children need guidance in social situations and can develop self-esteem issues if left without role models. By modeling healthy social interactions, parents can teach their children the importance of empathy and kindness while also encouraging independence and resilience. This is one of the areas we see parents struggle, most adults lack healthy friendships.
Healthy Lifestyle Behaviors: If parents are mindful of their food choices and engage in regular physical activity, their children are more likely to do so as well. This leads to long-term health benefits such as lower risks for chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease. With the obesity epidemic in both adults and children, it’s clear that the comfort of modern living is killing adults; in the process, those adults are creating environments physically crippling their children even earlier in life.
Mental Health: Positive attitudes and behaviors have a beneficial effect on children's mental health. By displaying positive attitudes and behaviors such as self-care, stress management, and seeking help when needed, parents can help children learn to deal with emotions in a healthy way and build mental resilience. Imagine if your parents had supported you and made it a point to look out for what was going on between your ears; how would that support have helped you develop your sense of sovereignty and confidence?
Tips for Parental Role Models
Here are a few things parents can do to become positive, healthy role models for their children:
Take Care of Yourself: Parents must prioritize their physical and mental health, as this will allow them to be present and engaged with their children. You must practice healthy habits that align with your goals, such as physical exercise, meditation, and/or relaxation. Remember that self-care isn't selfish; it's one of the best things you can do for your children.
Be Present: Multitasking can be tempting, particularly when we're juggling demanding jobs and busy households, but the best gift you can give your children is your undivided attention. Whether you're eating dinner together or watching a movie, focus on being present and engaged. The greatest gift you can give your children isn’t another present, it’s your presence as their parent.
Lead by Example: Pay attention to the things you say and do around your children, as they are always watching and learning. If you want your children to put down their phones and engage in healthier activities, then you must lead the way by doing so yourself.
Practice Positive Reinforcement: Catch your children doing good things and acknowledge their behavior, as this will encourage the development of positive habits and self-esteem. Most parents, especially fathers, only chime in when it’s time to be the “authority”, this is not how your children should remember you.
Encourage Open Dialogue: Create a space for your children to communicate and exchange ideas, thereby helping them develop critical thinking and social skills.
If you truly would “do anything for your child”, then you must apply that here and change who you are; remove the comfort you enjoy from mediocre behaviors.
If you have aspects to your life you disdain, address them lest you pass the cycle onto your children’s trajectory.
We have the opportunity to influence our children's lives for the better - and it starts with setting a healthier and more positive example from which they can form their own life foundation. Remember, the things that you say and do every day can have a lasting impact on your children's future…
It's up to mothers and fathers to become positive guides, role models, and supporters for their children. Not to be too apocalyptic, but if we’re to have a better future, we need better parents - today. When parents model healthy behaviors such as positive self-care, healthy eating, physical activity, stress management, and good social interactions, the children are more likely to engage in the same behaviors, that is when we can say, “we did our best”.
A healthy family is the end result of living with intention and congruence with truth, not popularity or societal expectations.
- Zachary Small
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