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Home > Living Well > Health Library > How to Teach Your Child by Example
Teaching your child by example isn't about being a perfect parent. True, it's about showing, or modeling, healthy choices and good behavior. But it's also about showing your child how to handle mistakes and recover from bad choices.
It's easy to help a child learn from their own mistakes with questions like, "What didn't work this time? How can you do it differently next time?"
What about helping your child learn from your mistakes? That's harder, isn't it? It means drawing attention to your flaws and missteps.
But using your mistakes as a learning tool helps both you and your child. And it helps build your child's respect for you over time.
Here are some tools to help you.
At a time when you would normally yell, you can follow your plan to do something different. Maybe you say something out loud like, "I'm mad, but I don't want to yell. So I'm going to take a break and calm down." Maybe then you step away and calm yourself with a breathing exercise.
When you do slip up and yell, say that you're sorry—even if it's later, when things have calmed down. Saying that you're sorry, or giving an apology, makes it clear that yelling is not okay. And it shows that you're thinking about how your actions affect others, which is another good thing to teach your child.
Depending on your child's age, you can play-act situations with toys, talk about real-life behavior, or role-play different situations like, "What are the worst and best ways to show you're angry?" or "How does it make you feel when I yell?" Talking and play-acting give your child permission to express feelings. And they give you a chance to teach your child by example.
For a serious problem like depression or substance use disorder, you can tell your child the basics—that you need help from other adults and that you may need treatment and time to get well and change. Keep it simple. Tell your child that you want to help them avoid having the same problem.
The tips below can help you look at your own behavior and begin to make any changes you might want to.
Give yourself credit for bad habits that you've already changed to good ones for your child's benefit.
You may have heard the saying "It takes a village to raise a child." There's some truth in that. As much as you want to set a good example for handling life's many choices, you can't do it all. Fortunately, the world is rich with people your child can learn from. These include:
As your child gets older, you can't choose or control the many types of role models in your child's life. But you can help your child learn from these role models' successes and mistakes.
If it feels right, play-act them. With your child, "rewrite" others' mistakes with better choices.
To make it like a game, you might write these and other questions on cards ahead of time.
If your child is a preteen or teen, you can talk about how other people handle things like smoking, peer pressure, sexuality, driving, and social media. Help your child discover the flaws, rather than naming them yourself. Ask questions like, "What went wrong there? What could make it turn out better if this happened again?"
There are endless options for what you can talk about with your child in both real life and the media.
Current as of:
September 20, 2021
Author: Healthwise StaffMedical Review: Adam Husney MD - Family MedicineKathleen Romito MD - Family MedicineLouis Pellegrino MD - Developmental Pediatrics
Current as of: September 20, 2021
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine & Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine & Louis Pellegrino MD - Developmental Pediatrics
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