How Influential Are We As Parents?

My husband and I aren't perfect, but we try to set the best examples that we can. Often, though, it seems like our kids aren't paying attention. Is our behavior really that influential?

Whether it's obvious or not, your kids are always watching and learning from you — especially when they're young and trying to figure out gender roles, and the roles that their parents, grandparents, and other authority figures play in their lives. During this time, it's not uncommon for kids to role-play "Mommy" or "Daddy" and model behaviors they've seen before.

But if you worry about your children watching (and copying) your every move, relax. Just because kids are watching you doesn't mean you have to do the right thing all the time. In fact, letting your kids see your flaws and weaknesses shows them that no one — not even Mommy or Daddy — is perfect. The key is to set a good example by allowing them to see you cope with these challenges in a healthy way. So ask yourself, how do you handle stress? Disappointment? Failure? An argument with a friend? If you behave in ways that you'd rather your kids not copy, you might consider trying to improve your coping skills.

When striving to be a better role model, try to develop traits that you'd like your kids to have: respect, friendliness, honesty, kindness, generosity, and tolerance. Maintain healthy habits, like exercising, eating nutritious meals, and not smoking.

It's also important to expose your kids to positive male and female role models. This is especially important in single-parent households where a mother- or father-figure is absent. Remember that role models aren't just parents or grandparents; they're also other family members, teachers, coaches, and older friends. All of these people can have a lasting impact on a child's life.

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: July 2010

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