I’ve been amazed lately at how fast my toddler is picking up on the world around him and starting to mimic the things his dad and I say and do. Lately, he finds our shoes around the house and brings them to us, even bringing the right shoes to the right person. This surprised me, given he is only 13 months old. So I decided to do a little experiment last week. I was driving home with him in the backseat, and a good song came on the radio. I decided to jam to the music (I never do this) by rocking my head back and forth with the beat. After just 5 minutes I looked back, and he was doing the exact same thing! Within this very short time, he noticed my behavior and copied it. Wow!
This got me to thinking about the powerful impact we have on our kids’ behavior. I know, you hear it all the time, but it is so true. Kids are impressionable at any age. When they are younger, they are most impressionable by their parents and caretakers. During adolescence, it is with their peers. Unfortunately, it sometimes seems like they want to copy only the behaviors we don’t want them to, rather than sitting still in church or not saying that awful word!
Here are some common behaviors our kids will imitate:
- Coping with Anger: If you tend to yell at others or react with violent words or behaviors when angry, your child is likely to try the same thing. I have had numerous families sit in my office and discuss their concern over their child’s anger and explosive behavior. Often, there is a close adult and usually in the home, who also deals with their emotions in this way.
- Keeping a Routine: Children will not naturally develop a healthy routine, and it is so important for their success in school and later in life. Families should create a routine that fits their lifestyle, so if your family is often on the go, a strict routine will not be realistic, and flexibility is important. Other families may be very structured and the daily routines are important and children need to learn this too. As much as you can, teach (and lead by example) the importance of good morning and evening routines.
- Maintaining Boundaries: Boundaries can be emotional or physical. Emotional boundaries define where our feelings end and others’ feelings begin. We use these to identify who is responsible for our feelings and what is OK to feel in certain circumstances. Physical boundaries define where our personal space ends and other people’s space begins.
- Social Skills: These include greeting people with a friendly hello, using eye contact, shaking hands when necessary, and engaging others in conversation. When you think a child is just playing while you have coffee with your neighbor or making a bank deposit, they are still observing you! Healthy social skills are essential for their lives, both on the playground and when it comes to getting a job. Teach them how to interact with others and explain the difference between family, friends, acquaintances, and strangers.
- Eating and Exercise Habits: This one does not require much explanation. How you take care of your body is how your children will care for their bodies.
- Substance Use: Children notice the use of substances in their home, whether it be legal or illegal, over-the-counter, or prescription. They can also tell if a parent is under the influence of substances. Children and teens have given me details about how they knew their parents were different and the parent had no idea their child was so observant.
- Driving: This is not just for parents of teens, because as I have explained, young kids are very influential. Watch your road rage, phone usage, texting, and tendency to always hurry or drive recklessly.
- Relationships: This is a part of everyone’s life, whether it be relationships with significant others, friends, or family. Your child will learn about affection, conflict resolution, and more by watching your relationships. They are also learning through your relationship with them. So go ahead, tell them you love them every day!