Parental Role Models

Parental Role Models
June 19, 2015 David Shanley, Psy.D.

I recently came across an all too accurate story on The Onion found here about parents modeling bad behavior to their children. The story portrays the father intentionally teaching his son how to overreact to minor annoyances in life with outbursts of anger and frustration. As with many Onion articles, this article is satirizing an uglier side of our society that we have probably all seen at one time or another.

But, do children really pick up on parent’s behavior so easily? Unfortunately, the answer is yes. This can be quite troublesome when the behavior is losing one’s temper, responding with violence and yelling, and generally acting out impulsively in response to anger and frustration. The famous Bobo doll study performed in 1961 demonstrated the phenomenon that when a child observes an adult acting aggressively, they are similarly more likely to imitate the behavior and also start behaving more aggressively –  in this case hitting the Bobo doll.

Children are little sponges that pick up everything, whether we like it or intend it or not. Now I’m not arguing that parents should be expected to be perfect angels around their children 24-7, but practicing some mindful control over one’s actions, especially when frustrated or upset, is an invaluable skill to model for one’s children.

Emotions are not an easy thing for children to understand. And they learn what they are, how to express them, and how to respond to them, from their environment, especially their parents. If little Johnny is learning to respond to minor frustrations with contempt, outrage, and yelling, we can only imagine how he is going to deal with the disappointments and struggles that every day life brings. Instead, it would be great if this child were able to make room for unpleasant feelings and experiences, and respond with awareness, acceptance, and control. So please, the next time you want to lose your temper in front of your children, think twice about the lessons you are teaching them from a very young and impressionable age. Your children and everyone they interact with will be very grateful.

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