What is a role model?
A role model is a person who serves as an example by influencing others. The earliest role models to the children are their parents. We have often heard of the saying ‘chip of the old block’, ‘like father like son’ etc. There is a whole lot of truth in those sayings. There is a theory that behaviors are genetically predetermined. It is true that the genes are passed on at the time of conception but acting out on those genes is determined by the environment the child is raised in.
When does it begin?
Probably as early as when the infant babbles and coos back at the parent in the same tone or cadence the mother uses. And then there is a mirroring of actions like ‘peek a boo’, waving bye, clapyour hands. It further progresses to similar hand gestures, similar styles of combing etc. How many of us have noted a child walking the same walk with an imaginary mobile handset glued to the ear, in imitation of the dad! Children learn vicariously and through imitation and observation.
It goes to illustrate how powerful the environment is. Parents do not continue to be the role models throughout. As the child grows, it changes from the teacher teaching him, to an older child, to celebrities or sports stars etc.
The influence to shape the character of the child lies with the parent for 2 perhaps 3 years. Awareness of this characteristic part of development is good. It does not necessarily translate to everything negative like’ don’t lie’, don’t litter, don’t waste your time etc.
There is a lot of positive parenting that can determine the child’s character. But it requires a lot of forethought and patience. We have seen children from dysfunctional families tend to be dysfunctional. A child raised in a home where parents smoke is more likely to be a smoker as an adult. A child abused physically is more likely to become an abuser as an adult. Children exposed to early violence, have issues with impulse control and struggle with short temper.
It requires a lot of discipline from us as parents to become positive role models. Positive things as generosity, discipline, self-respect, happiness, kindness, bravery are qualities worth setting an example with. Filling one’s life with good friends, enligtened reading, making time for the family, good health etc. are some of the few things that children can be shown. Do not set precedents for your child by indulging in idle gossip, poorly resolving conflicts, lying , cheating, speaking unkindly about relatives, parents, friends etc.
Children are very astute in identifying adults who just ‘say’ and those that ‘do’ as well. One often finds the constant refrain from parents how their kid does not pick up after playing, but they do not realize, the handbag flung at the sofa, the mobile handset left elsewhere, and the constant litany of ‘can you find my key's etc.. is not setting a good example for the child. Parenting is a powerful tool. Use it wisely to set a positive example for your child.
Don’t worry that the children never listen to you, worry that they are always watching you- Robert Fulghum
-Dr. Lakshmy Menon (MD DNB Pediatrics Consultant, Cloudnine)