When you start a new job, most of the time the company assigns someone to help you get up to speed on how things are done. But there are occasions when the absence of such intentional guidance forces you to follow the lead of your most confident coworker. Sometimes, that results in doing everything wrong. Well, it works the same way with role models for small children. Either the role modeling is intentional with clear goals, or it’s haphazard with no control over who is modeling what. After considering why children need role models, it’s helpful to look at the importance of positive role models.
1. Role Models
Children look to role models to provide examples for behavior, ideas and values, according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Role models serve as examples children copy in their activities and in interactions with others. Whether negative or positive, children make decisions about how to act, think and feel based on the influence of role models. Parents are the most important role models for children, but caregivers, other family members and friends who spend time with the child also are also role models.
2. Observation and Imitation
An important element of early childhood development is the ability to learn through observation and imitate what is seen and heard. Bad role models are everywhere, teaching your child to drink from milk jugs or use inappropriate words. Good role models teach your children manners and the importance of the indoor voice. Although many role models shape the developing child, most children want to imitate their parents. This is especially true for the same-sex parent, according to Dr. Tim Markey in a 2011 blog on the New Hanover County Schools website. Children might not have the words to express lofty ideals, but they pick up on ideas and values by observing and imitating role models.
Part of being a role model is correcting behavior. For example, if your child is wearing a chocolate mustache as he insists he did not drink the milkshake, it’s probably a good time to talk about honesty. When you discipline your child, you are being a role model that helps him understand that behavior has consequences. When you point out his good behavior, you are telling him he is doing a good job at self-governing. He can't follow the rules if you don't show him the way.
You can’t control everything your child is exposed to, but you can provide commentary on the bad examples. Only you stand between your child and his older brother’s ability to belch the alphabet, so you must explain to the little one that the behavior is impolite and encourage big brother to hide his baser talents. Role models provide guidance when children have questions. Your tone of voice conveys a lot of information to a child who is looking to you for guidance. By modeling the behavior you want to see, you provide your little one with the tools he needs to succeed and make you proud.
Being a role model is a long-term undertaking that requires consistency and earnest effort, even when you are not up to the task. For example, it might take a few tries to convince your child not to open and eat cookies from the grocery store shelves. You teach your toddler that hitting and screaming are unacceptable if -- in his three years of life -- he has not seen you do either. Just spending time with a good role model can teach a child to be kind to others or clean up after themselves. The small child, who really is like a sponge, is constantly learning from role models, good and bad.