Even as babies, children mimic their parents. They repeat words, learn to wave and blow kisses and want to cook like dad or play the piano like mom. Observent children pick up on their parents' behaviors, both good and bad. Behavior modeling can expose kids to both positive and negative behaviors, depending on how thoughtfully parents use this technique. As a result, behavior modeling comes with both advantages and disadvantages.
Behavioral Modeling Basics
Modeling is a way of teaching by example. Parents model the behavior they want to see in their children, whether they want kids to use proper manners at the dinner table or treat family members with kindness and respect. This method of behavioral training rests on the concept that children learn from seeing and listening and have the tendency to copy things they learn, according to the Purdue University Extension website. Parents can model the importance of physical health by exercising regularly, patience by not getting frustrated with unruly kids and generosity by volunteering with worthwhile causes. According to Karen Stephens, a child development instructor at Illinois State University, modeling can establish respect and credibility between parents and children. However, behavior modeling presents challenges as well.
A Challenging Technique
Parents may struggle to be consistent in their own behaviors, which can impede their modeling efforts. A lack of self-discipline may mean that parents contradict themselves -- modeling one behavior but unintentionally encouraging kids to behave in another manner with their actions. For example, parents may encourage children not to raise their voices but then yell at a bad driver in traffic. Modeling can also be challenging to implement consistently with children who are in daycare or school. In these instances, children may copy more than just their parents -- they may repeat behaviors used by teachers or peers or even behaviors they see in the media. For example, a teen may see a friend bullying a classmate and engage in the same behavior.
Impediment to High Self-Esteem
Though their intentions are good, parents who model exemplary behavior can set expectations too high for the child. Unrealistic expectations are those that are not achievable when considering the child's age and development level. For example, expecting a 2-year-old to sit still and pay attention in church without making a sound is unrealistic given the child's short attention span. A child who cannot meet his or her parents' exemplary behavior and high expectations may suffer from low self-esteem, particularly if the parent expresses disappointment with the child's behavior. Over time, these disappointments can leave a child questioning his or her worth, which can negatively impact self-esteem. A child with low self-esteem may be reluctant to try new activities, withdraw from family and friends and frustrate and anger easily.
Behavior modeling also can lead to unintended consequences. Modeling of negative behaviors can compound existing behavior issues rather than improve them. For example, when a parent yells at his or her child, the child may, in turn, yell at a friend at school in a similar manner. In other situations, parents' negative behaviors can influence their children as well. For example, parents may smoke in front of their teens or use profanity. In these instances, children who may not have otherwise considered engaging in such behaviors are exposed to them by their parents. For example, children of parents who smoke are more likely to smoke, according to the American Lung Association.