Children learn from watching the actions of adults.

How to Model Behavior That You Want to Teach Infants & Toddlers

by Nannette Richford

Exhorting rational adults to "do what I say and not what I do" may be effective at times. After all, adults understand that everyone falls short sometimes and that occasionally circumstances beyond your control can cause you to act out of character. But, when it comes to children, what you do speaks louder than words. That's why modeling the behavior you want to see in your child is important. Modeling refers to letting your child see you exhibiting the behavior you expect from them.

Demonstrate the behavior you expect from your little one so that she knows what you expect. Hanging up your clothes, putting away your shoes and petting the cat gently all show her how you want her to behave. Accompany your actions with words, such as, "We pet the cat gently," especially when modeling new behavior.

Be consistent with your own actions. Modeling eating all your veggies one day and turning up your nose at the squash the next teaches your little one that you don't really mean what you say. To be effective, the behavior you model must be consistent, not just used in a teaching moment.

Use your manners when speaking to others if you want your toddler to speak politely and treat others with respect. Saying please and thank you with a big smile loses its effect if your little one observes you scowling and grumbling about the neighbors or being less than polite to the telemarketers on the phone. If you expect your toddler to be polite and kind to others, check your own behavior often to make sure you are modeling the behavior you want her to learn.

Solve conflicts with your spouse or other family members by talking it out, instead of storming around declaring, "Nothing is wrong!" When your infant or toddler sees you keeping your emotions under control and solving your problems without emotional outbursts, he learns that there are better ways to solve problems than temper tantrums or throwing his toys.

Take responsibility for your actions, such as owning up to shrinking your husband's favorite sweater in the wash or forgetting to take out the garbage. When your little one sees you taking responsibility for your mistakes, she learns how to be responsible, too.


  • Ask yourself if your behavior reflects how you want your child to behave. If the answer is no, consider how the behavior you model for your child affects his behavior.


  • Avoid hitting, spanking and other forms of physical punishment if you want your child to learn to avoid violence.

About the Author

Nannette Richford is an avid gardener, teacher and nature enthusiast with more than four years' experience in online writing. Richford holds a Bachelor of Science in secondary education from the University of Maine Orono and certifications in teaching 7-12 English, K-8 General Elementary and Birth to age 5.

Photo Credits

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