Role models help children develop specific skills and values. As a parent, you become a role model, whether you want to or not. As a role model, you must think about the effects your actions will have on your child’s values and skills. You should understand how you differ from a mentor, which qualities are necessary for development, why showing by example is important -- and most importantly -- why your job as a role model is necessary for a prosocial society.
All mentors are role models, but not all role models are mentors. It sounds like a statement in a high school logic class, but this statement holds true in parenting. Although mentors explicitly tell children how to act, role models use implicit teaching -- meaning that a role model will show by example rather than by teaching directly.
For example, a role model father can show his daughter emotional intelligence by controlling his temper while waiting in an incessantly long line. Because he is showing by example, he doesn't need to state, “We should be patient while waiting in line” because his actions have already said that for him.
The qualities of a good role model could be longer than your weekly grocery list. But arguably the most important of which can be narrowed down to a few broad categories. As a role model for your child, you should be acting in ways that help your child have an enriching childhood. Her childhood should also enable her to modify and improve her behavior as she develops.
A good role model should act in the following ways. She should make children feel safe, show children unconditional love, allow children a suitable level of independence, help children form quality relationships, discuss values, request accountability and show pride for her child's achievements.
Psychologist Nancy Eisenberg describes role modeling as the key to raising a prosocial child. She states that preaching without modeling is virtually fruitless, because children learn values from watching what their role models do in social situations. So, what society as a whole does and what role models do individually are inherently linked -- the actions you show your child will be reflected in your child's behaviors.
Besides food, water, and shelter, children need good role models. Without good role models, children don't have a way to learn social skills. Much of a child’s self-confidence comes from his role models. By having one or two consistent guides from whom to learn values, a child will not be confused by the ever-present mixed signals that are commonplace outside his home. For example, even if a child goes to school with classmates who don’t commonly say "Sorry" or "Thank you" if his parents use these phrases, he will also likely say these phrases.
- Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child; John Gottman
- The Caring Child; Nancy Eisenberg
- Pediatrics: The Role of Parents in Children’s Psychological Development; Jerome Kagan, Ph.D.