Modeling - learning by imitation.



Also called imitation, demonstrating, displaying.

In Psychology/Therapy - in which a particular behaviour is elicited by the observation of similar behaviour in others.


Whilst reading about 'Anger in Children' on Harley Therapy's website, who are a psychotherapy and counselling group established in Harley Street, London.  I was struck by this seemingly simple paragraph below:



Anger in children could be something they learned from you!    If you notice that you lose your temper with your children often, then you are doing what is called 'modeling' by psychologists - giving your child something to learn by imitation.




Even though I studied for over 3 years to become a counsellor and know the theory of modeling, as a parent this paragraph took me aback.


How does a child learn to talk?  “Children will learn to speak the dialect(s) and language(s) that are used around them” (The Linguist List, No date).  In my experience you find that if a child’s parents are softly spoken, then the child will be softly spoken, as this is what has been modeled to the child.  In the same vain if parents generally speak in a loud aggressive way, the child learns that this is an ‘OK’ way to communicate.  If you are a polite and respectful person your children are receiving constant non-verbal lessons from you of how to behave.


From the past couple of days research on this subject it is obvious to me that how we behave around our children influences who they are and how they behave in the world, as much as what we actively teach them.  It’s not as simple as teaching our children to say please and thank you, to use table manners or teaching your children to do their best at school, so they can get a descent job and pay their own way in life.  It’s about the tone we use when talking to others, day in and day out.  If we swear in front of our children, that is a permissive act, it’s ok to swear.  On the flip side, if we let others treat us badly, our children learn that that is the way to be in life, it’s ok for people to talk down to us, let us down and treat us with disrespect.


The phrase I’ve heard “Do as I say, not as I do”, is laughable as children notice and learn from both what we say and what we do.


An exercise I have completed myself and with clients, is to become aware of how we treat and talk to our children’s opposite parent.  So if you are the father, then how do you treat your children’s mother, what tone do you generally use with her, are you generally bossy and critical, or are you as kind and supportive as you could be.  Possibly do a log over a couple of days, as writing it down makes it real.  Any negative, over passive or other undesirable behaviour will be what you are modeling, to your children. Plainly you are saying, “It’s ok to behave this way”.


I welcome any comments.



“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” 
 Benjamin Franklin