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A parent’s guide to…Modelling Behaviour

Ever hear the saying “Do as I say, not as I do.”? Yeah, I think we’ve all heard or even said this once or twice. It’s a common phrase that adults typically say to children when they don’t want them to copy a negative behaviour that they’ve done or are about to do. It sends a mixed message- “What I’m about to do is wrong, so you shouldn’t do it, but I’m going to do it anyway…” 

On the other hand, many parents might think their child isn’t paying attention to what they do. Maybe because they’re little and might not understand, or they’re a bit older and seem preoccupied on their phone or with friends.While it may appear to be the case from the outside, the truth is, children (and even adults!) are always observing and taking in the world around them. Human-beings pick up on ques from their external environment as a way to learn how to act and behave. For children, this mostly comes from their parents as they tend to spend the most time with them. 

But what does it mean to ‘model behaviour’? 

Parents model all kinds of behaviours to teach their children how to do certain basic things in life like how to brush their teeth, chew their food and use the toilet. Most of parenting in the early years is about teaching your child how to do these types of things.  

As children grow up, they are still observing and learning how to behave from the outside world. Social learning theory suggests that learning happens through observation, imitation, and modelling. This means that most of what our children learn from us is based off our actions rather than our words. 

There are 3 ways that we learn through observation: 

Physical modelling- this is where a person acts our or demonstrates a behaviour. 

Symbolic models- this is where characters from films/TV, books or social media display a behaviour. 

Verbal– this is where a behaviour is instructed through verbal explanation or description. 

When we think of all this in terms of health and wellbeing, it can start to make sense that if we (parents and carers) are taking care of ourselves by eating healthily, staying active, and looking after our mental health our children will see that and start to adapt that behaviour themselves. For example, if you are the type to snooze the alarm in the morning to get 10 extra minutes of rest but then struggle to find the time to have breakfast before rushing out the door, this behaviour will likely influence your child’s habits and behaviours as well. Instead of snoozing the alarm, if you woke up and made a healthy breakfast for the family, or better yet, prepared it the night before, this will send the message to your children that it’s important to make the time to have a healthy breakfast to start your day. 

Our ‘Parent’s guide to Self-Care’  summarises this by saying, “If we can begin to take better care of ourselves as parents, we will begin to role model this behaviour to our children. Children do what we do, not as we say, and being one of their key role models, by practicing this behaviour you are essentially teaching them the importance of looking after their own mental and physical wellbeing too”

We know a lot of this is easier said than done, but if you start out small by changing one habit/behaviour, over time this will make a big difference. 

Here are three easy ways you can start modelling healthy habits for your child: 

Cooking board with varied foods on it
Enjoy a wide variety of foods

Be sure to include different colour fruit & veg, wholegrains, nuts & seeds, beans &legumes, fish 2x/week, chocolate & sweets in moderationit’s important to show that all foods have a place in a healthy, balanced diet. 

Child drinking water
Drink plenty of water

6-8 glasses (about 1.5 litres) is the recommended minimum water intake per day in the UK. If you’ve been very active, try to have a bit more! 

Girl playing Wii Sports
Stay Active

Aim for 30 minutes a day of moderately intense physical activity for adults (60 minutes for children). This can be spread out across the day- whether you go for a walk/hike as a family, play some sport, or follow along to a dance video on YouTube in the living room, it all counts towards your activity for the day!