I was having a conversation with a distressed mother about her wayward teenage son the other day and we ended up discussing the importance of modelling in a child’s development. Sociologist Morris Massey advocated the widely accepted theory that there are three main periods in a child’s development, namely the Imprint, Modelling and Socialisation periods. (Most parents of grunting teenage boys would argue that they don’t appear to be influenced by the socialisation period!). Of these three periods, we chatted about modelling, given that kids between the ages of 8 and 13 model key people in their lives; parents, siblings, peer group, teachers, religious figures, not to mention influential figures in the wider world such as sportsmen, film heroes, pop stars. It is often said that we become who we most admired at the age of ten (no hope for me, the focus of my admiration at that age was a mixture of Mary Poppins and Maria Von Trapp)! If that’s the case, who did you admire back then and what behaviours did you/are you modelling for your young, impressionable child/ren?
If you’re doing the couch potato bit, sitting on the sofa issuing orders for your kids to be active, you might want to think again. It may sound obvious, but no one likes to be told what to do, so the best way to encourage a child into good habits is to literally show them how it’s done. If you want your kids to engage in meaningful conversation at the dinner table, make sure you put your mobile away first, so they can’t use the fact that you’re on your mobile as much (if not more than them) as ammunition! You’ve no doubt heard the well-used expression “Do as I say, not as I do”. It’s the perfect get-out clause for the parent, but confusing for the child. You are such a powerful role model for your kids and it’s best to get really conscious about your own habits, so that you lead by example – after all, that’s what you are as a parent – a leader.
An analysis of 125 papers published in psychiatric journals between 1970 and 1982, reported that mothers were held responsible for 72 types of psychological disorders in their children. Unlike the father, the mother was not considered to be ’emotionally healthy’. We need to bear in mind that Sigmund Freud constantly denigrated the role of the mother and no doubt influenced subsequent studies of mother/child interaction. However it is nonetheless a reminder of the influence mothers can have on their children – in both positive and negative ways.
On no account should we be beating ourselves up when our children go wayward. Yes, we are very powerful, we need to be mindful of our own behaviours but we are not the only influence in our child’s life. However, parenthood is good motivation to becoming conscious of your behaviours and habits – and consciousness is the first step to changing behaviour if you need to/wish to. Can you change your habits from dirty to clean?
Lis Allen is a motivational speaker and is currently writing a book on mothering which, like having children, is a work in progress! She has also created the Vagina Dialogues, a unique event for women of all ages which looks at the mothering role and how profoundly that key relationship affects us all as women, whether or not we go on to become mothers ourselves. The next event is in Hungerford on Sept 15th. For more info and booking click here.