Despite vowing to never let the words pass their lips, how many parents can truthfully claim that, finding themselves at wits end, they have not uttered the phrase: “Do as I say, not as I do”? After all, we want our kids to do well, to develop the kinds of habits that will make them successful, happy adults. This is a natural aspect of being a good parent. Even though we may know all the right things to do, what’s best for us, putting those behaviors into practice is challenging for us as adults as well. If behavior change were easy we would all do better, for ourselves and our kids.
However, experience also tells us that saying one thing, but doing another is less effective in getting kids to exhibit the behaviors we would like to see. A concept known as modeling provides an effective tool for helping us to help kids develop good behaviors, and even to alter less desirable ones. Modeling behavior describes what we do when we act in ways that we want the other person to imitate. Modeling behavior provides an example that can be followed, shows how to do something new. Modeling behavior is even more effective when the child imitates, and finds positive outcomes resulting from the behavior.
In modeling healthy eating, parents can illustrate how to make choices, what it takes eat well and how to enjoy treats in moderation. Parents are powerful role models for their kids, even in subtle ways that we think may go unnoticed. When there is greater consistency between what we say and what we do, it sends a more powerful message that is more apt to yield the kind of results we want to see. In addition to modeling healthy eating choices, modeling a more active lifestyle not only sets the example, but provides the family with positive and fun ways to spend time together, further strengthening relationships and making parental influence more powerful.
As parents, we are in the driver’s seat. We buy the groceries, prepare the meals, and choose the restaurants that we visit. However, because kids are inundated with many images in the media, influenced by friends and making choices about food at school, we need to focus on empowering children to make their own choices. It is important for us to create opportunities to illustrate the kinds of habits that we want our kids to develop and to build their skills and confidence in doing so. In this way, when the time comes for them to make choices on their own, outside of the home, they will be well-rehearsed and ready to make the kinds of choices to last a lifetime.