We all want to be good role models for our kids — but that's definitely easier said than done, especially when you're dealing with all the normal stressors of life, possibly working from home and spending way more time together than normal. However, there are a lot of ways you can set a good example for your kid to show them what it means to be a kind and caring person, without going above, beyond and out of your way each and every day.
All it takes is actually being a good person in front of them on a regular basis and then refraining from some of your less-than-ideal habits. Here's how.
Looking at the Big Picture
Many parents focus on individual things they can do to set a good example for their kid — which can be helpful — but it's not as helpful as looking at the overall big picture.
Your kid spends more time with you than probably anyone else in their life, regardless of what kind of child care you use. You're their role model, whether you like it or not, and that means you're either a good role model or a bad one. That doesn't mean you have to be perfect all the time in order to set a good example, but it does mean that you have to keep your child in mind when making choices — all of your choices.
But before you go pouring all the beer down the drain or swearing off guilty pleasure TV just because you don't want your child drinking at the age of 8 or getting hooked on The Bachelor, stop. One of the best ways to set a good example is to be real with your child. That means showing them that you're human just like everyone else and that being a good person means trying to make good choices on the regular, whether or not you succeed.
Once you have a habit of keeping this big picture in mind, you can move on to setting a good example in tangible, everyday ways that all add up for one big impact. Here are 16 ways to set a good example for your kids on the regular.
Keep Your Emotions in Check
It can be all too easy to blow up at your child, especially when your life is stressful. You have work, your partner, the kids, the pets, the house, your parents — all of it adds up to demands on your time and your mental capacity. Still, it's important to not go off in front of (or at) your kids, whether or not your child's behavior is the cause.
Rather, show them ways they can easily and healthily destress, and then express emotions in a mature way, whether that's toward them or another person in your household.
Lose your cool for a second? Don't sweat it. It happens to the best of us. You can always do a better job next time, but for now, explain to your child why you responded the way you did and why it wasn't the ideal response. And don't forget to apologize.
Model Healthy Habits
Everyone wants their child to have a healthy, long life, but what are you doing to show your child how exactly they can achieve it? Sure, they'll learn about healthy food and physical activity in school, but are they seeing those lessons in action at home? Show them the importance of exercise and a varied diet.
Additionally, model healthy behaviors with food and alcohol so that your children learn they don't need to be dependent on it to regulate emotions, deal with negative circumstances or have a good time.
Place an Emphasis on Relationships
When life is busy and there's an endless to-do list to check off, it can become all too easy to let our relationships slide. However, showing your child the importance of relationships over things like money or working can set a good precedent while also giving you valuable time with them.
Show them how you might choose to spend time with them, as well as other members of your family and friends, over doing something else, whether it's putting in an extra day at the office, meticulously cleaning the house or vegging out in front of the television.
(Disclaimer: there are always exceptions to this method of setting a good example; sometimes you have to sacrifice family time in order to put food on the table or simply for your own mental health, and in those cases, it's important to tell your child why and when it's okay to step back from the family in certain situations.)
An easy way to set a good example for your child while also doing a little good in your community? Volunteer. Rather than something you have to think about on a regular basis (like modeling a healthy lifestyle), volunteering is as easy as setting up a time with one of your favorite local charities. Many allow for children to accompany their parents on-site.
If you want to volunteer and do some good without leaving the house, there are plenty of ways to do that as well. Look for service projects that you can do at home, like collecting dry goods for your local food pantry or writing letters to the elderly in nursing homes.
Don't Put a Huge Amount of Emphasis on Appearance
We all want to look clean, presentable and usually professional when leaving the house, but be careful not to let your care for your appearance cross over into dangerous territory. Putting too much focus on your child's weight, cosmetic use or clothes can lead to damaging issues for your child. Even seemingly harmless comments directed toward yourself (i.e., "I hate my stomach" or "I have such gross hair") can impact your child's view of what is and isn't an appropriate appearance.
Simply Be Nice
It's an easy thing and makes a huge difference to those around us, but it's so easy to forget. While you may be polite and cordial to those you come across on a daily basis, from the other caregivers in your child's life to the barista, are you actually nice? Do you go beyond polite conversation to wishing them a great afternoon with a smile or complimenting them on their earrings?
Taking the extra step to be nice, not just merely polite, shows your child how easy it is to brighten someone's day while making yourself feel better in the process.
Continue to Improve
Whether it's reading a book on a subject that interests you, taking a class to learn a new skill, actively working to improve on a bad habit or breaking out of your comfort zones, show your child that it's never too late (or embarrassing!) to try to improve.
You can even take it a step further and invite your child to learn or improve with you.
Learn to Apologize
It can be tough apologizing to a kid, and even a little embarrassing. However, actively apologizing to your child when you're in the wrong is a good way to show them that you should never be too proud to admit your mistakes, regardless of who it means you need to apologize to. Likewise, don't be shy about apologizing to your spouse or other members of the family in front of your child.
Follow the Rules
This really shouldn't need to be noted, but if you're trying to become a better role model for your child, just follow the rules. Don't speed, don't litter, don't trespass. If you know that you shouldn't be doing it — and you wouldn't want your child doing it — then just don't.
Pay It Forward
While "paying it forward" has become a little trendy in recent years, there's no denying that a random act of kindness can make a difference and put a smile on your face. It's also an easy way to show your child how to take your politeness a step further by actually being genuinely nice.
The next time you're at the drive-thru, pay for the person behind you. Or, leave a generous tip when you order take-out. Shovel the snow in your neighbor's driveway. When your child notices your generosity, explain to them that sometimes it just feels great to give to others and that there's rarely a reason not to be nice when it's an option.
When you get home from work with a bit of juicy gossip, it can be tempting to spill it all to your spouse at the dinner table, but hold off. Gossiping in front of your child can show them that friendships aren't always genuine, cattiness is the standard and talking about others is no big deal, regardless of who gets hurt.
Additionally, while you may be smart enough to know when and where your gossip is appropriate, your child may not, and then they could end up spilling the beans the next time you see the person of interest.
Keep the gossip in the bedroom and out of your child's curious ears. Or, better yet, stay out of it yourself, too.
Be Resourceful, Not Wasteful
If you want to teach your children good money and resource management, you don't want to teach them that the first thing to do when something breaks or when you don't need it any longer is to throw it away.
Model good behavior by repairing broken items (like a bike), or getting a repair completed by a professional. For those unwanted items, donate them. For anything that can't be donated or repaired, recycle it versus throwing it in the regular trash.
Again, it probably shouldn't need to be said, but it does. Children are always listening, and while you might think that little white lie doesn't hurt anything (and it likely doesn't), you're still sending them the message that honesty is a choice. So, before you fib, think about who's listening and what they could infer from your behavior. After all, you wouldn't want your child lying to you, would you?
Work With A Smile
Yes, we all grumble and complain about our jobs on occasion, but if that's all your child is hearing from you regarding your work, they may get the idea that work is something to be avoided, not enjoyed.
Show them the value of hard work and the joy that can come when working on something you love, by sprinkling in some positives surrounding work into your conversations as well.
Do you have a habit of flaking? It might be impacting your child more than you think. Even if you never flake on your child, if they see you flaking on other people or your responsibilities, they could start thinking that it's totally okay to do so themselves — and then they could start flaking on you, their chores or anything else they don't feel like dealing with.
Show them the importance of being reliable by being reliable yourself.
When your child wants to explain to you for the thousandth time what their imaginary friend did in their dream last night, you may want to stare at your phone rather than actually listen, but be careful how much you do so. Pay attention to your child and be present with them — even if that means setting some boundaries on when and how many times they can tell you the same story over and over again.
It's Never Too Early (or Too Late) to Start
It's never too early — or too late — to begin setting a good example for your child. If it's something that you know you need to do, start today, with something simple, like paying it forward or giving a genuine compliment. Then, work your way up to the more difficult, involved tasks, like breaking a bad habit or changing your lifestyle.
Your child will be better off for it, and you'll notice the results in your own life, too.
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