Very little parenting is effective without modeling the desired behavior. This is because our little ones are very visual, can’t read, are distracted and don’t always have full cognition of our words. Modeling isn’t always easier than other parenting tools, but it feels so much better than barking orders, shame or punishment. To a young child, there is no room for confusion or a communication breakdown when his parent’s body simply shows it like it is, rather than tells it like it is. Babies, toddlers and even preschooler identities are still so very much wrapped up in the identities of their parents. They really truly want to be like us and they do follow our lead if we lead by example.
I only call it “extreme modeling” because I have noticed that it is unusual. Modeling really isn’t a secret, but many people just don’t know how to do it, or they feel GOOFY doing it or they don’t do it repeatedly enough to have any effect.
Scenario A: Modeling Sleep
All you want is for your 18 month-old to lay down in her crib and sleep for the night, but she seems scared, stays awake and cries. Your child knows that you may be doing something fun staying up without her, she can even see lights peeping in from the other room. She doesn’t want to be without you and you don’t want her to cry it out. So,with a mattress on the floor in her room instead of a crib (since you are too big to model sleep in a crib), you are able to lay with her until she falls asleep, quietly modeling that you are about to sleep. With the door to her room closed and the lights off in her room and in the rooms around her room and you can say “I am sleeping now because it is getting very dark outside and it is night night time, come cuddle with me.”
You remain with your head on the bed and relax and eventually your child will come to the bed and cuddle down. Keep doing this so that it becomes an expected behavior of you and then, an expected behavior of the child. My child occasionally has protested bedtime even when it happens this way, but the protest or the tears are short-lived when our kids are actually tired and we are offering presence.
Scenario B: Modeling Potty
You started potty training at 2.5 years old and your child had one painful constipated bowel movement and now is afraid to poop. I always feel crazy when I say this, but it works and so I risk my own humiliation for you, dear reader. Model pooping for your child. From the beginning to the end; from “Oh, I feel a poop in my body, I better run to the potty.” all the way up until “This is what my poop face looks like, isn’t it silly? Do you hear my poop plop?” and even “Would you like to see my poop?” and/or “It felt a little stretchy coming out, but It feels so good now that it is all out!” Your child can see and hear from you a positive sense or normalcy and actually see how things work without fear for another human.
Scenario C: Modeling Gentle
Your child is pulling the fur of a friend’s dog while you are in conversation with that friend. “Don’t! Don’t Don’t” It seems to be the go-to word in parenting, but it is a word that for babies and toddlers needs more information, context and re-direction. You can provide all of that info, context and re-direction by modeling what your child should be doing instead of using only “no” or ”don’t”. The child, even at 10 months, needs to know why we don’t pull fur (It hurts! and doggies don’t’ like it.) A young child is only going to “get” gentle if we get down on his level and first show with our hand what gentle petting looks like and with narration “Look. I am petting the doggie gently with my hand flat like this. Oh, the doggie likes it! Can I help your hand try it now? Would you like to try petting gentle on your own now?”
Don’t forget that the best way to effect change and closeness through modeling is to model these things consistently. One time won’t do it, but consistent, fair, respectful modeling of behavior will make life with young children livable even if that means we have to hold ourselves to the same standards as our toddler.
Eating and table challenges? modeling. Sharing troubles? You guessed it!
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