Modeling as a Way of Life

“Do as I say and not as I do.”

That hypocritical concept is unquestionably one of the most ineffective methods of education.

Children see, and children do.

Children instinctively model the behavior of those around them, thereby developing physical, emotional, and mental skills.

On occasion, it can be difficult to have faith in the long-range effectiveness of setting a good example. Oftentimes, it is far more tempting to lecture (perhaps with a shout or a couple of bangs for added emphasis!) in order to obtain the desired behavior.

While instruction and lectures do have their place, our children are far more likely to internalize and follow through with the conduct that has been modeled by those close to them than that which has been taught through philosophical speeches.

Here are a few bites of food for thought:

1) I’d like my child to speak politely.

Hint: Does my child overhear a courteous and pleasant tone of voice when listening to my conversations- even if (or, especially if!) I’m speaking to someone else?

Don’t: Say, “Susie speak nicely to Taylor.” and then turn to your spouse and exclaim, “HOW COULD YOU DO THAT TO ME!!!???”

2) I’d like my child to possess a wholesome sense of truth and integrity.

Hint: Watch out for little white lies in everyday dialogue.

Don’t: When your daughter informs you that your mother-in-law is on the phone, do not fib, “Oh, tell her I went out for the evening.” Instead, deal with the situation with the integrity you wish to convey and say, “Please tell her I’m not available for the phone right now.”

3) I’d like my child to value family relationships.

Hint: Be aware of the messages you are sending through your preferences and values. Even though there may be some family members that invariably rub you the wrong way, try your best to maintain an upbeat and positive attitude towards family gatherings.

Don’t: Say; “Oh, I wish I could just stay home and watch the game, but Grandma would be so mad if we’d miss Uncle Bob’s wedding.” Your child is much more likely to have strong family ties if you express enjoyment regarding family get-togethers, rather than annoyance or impatience.

4) I want my child to use words, rather than fists, to deal with frustrating situations.

Hint: Be aware of the manner in which you react to challenges!

Don’t: Bang and curse the fax machine when a paper jam occurs; take a few deep breaths, count to ten (or a thousand- if necessary!) and reach into your heart for the superhuman strength to will yourself into staying calm!


Every interaction, each new situation, is an opportunity to quietly and effectively model desirable behavior towards our youth.

This trickle-down manner of parenting, like water dripping on a stone, will, over time, leave a lasting and permanent impression on our children.


  1. What an inspiring thought- that it’s really a combination of all of the seemingly “little” things that we do- that truly make an effect on our children.

    Thanks for sharing!

    Stacey (mom of three small souls)

  2. Seems so simple, yet is something that we all need to be reminded of every once in awhile. Thank you for the reminder!! Everything we do and say makes a difference to someone.

  3. Good reminders! Easy to forget we are our own worst enemies sometimes as parents.

  4. Laura A. says:

    Just the other day I said to my children, in a rather loud voice, “Don’ yell at me when I am trying to think” and we all looked at each other and burst out laughing. I am glad my girls have a good sense of humour and no illusions that their mommy is perfect.

  5. One of the things I’ve always tried to do with my two little boys is keep my promises. If I’m not sure I can do that, then I don’t promise. I tell them “I’ll try, but I can’t promise because…”. On the rare occasions when life got the best of me and I couldn’t keep a promise, I apologized and explained what happened. My boys are only 5 and 1, but the older one already knows that promises shouldn’t be made or broken lightly.

    I’ve also seen what can happen when a parent falls back on the easy fib – ie “We’re out of cookies” instead of “You’ve had enough cookies”. When my sister-in-law did that with her daughter, she was sometimes caught in the lie and she’d just shrug and act like she’d been joking. Unfortunately, she was surprised when her daughter started lying to get out of situations. She’s nine now and I worry about what will happen when she’s a teenager.

  6. This is such a good point. I have so little patience for people who lack any manner of self discipline but who then insist on setting ultra high standards for their kids.

  7. Hate it Hate it Hate it. Don’t write this stuff. I am busy trying to raise perfect kids who will make me feel like I am better than I really am. Articles like this lower the bar to a reality I too often don’t want to acknoweldge. You are saying they can’t be perfect when I am not. You are asking me to lecture and maybe yell at myself before I lecture them. Keep it up my kids and my integrity need this.

  8. This message is so true to life. For the most part it is a philosophy that I try to live and teach by, but my spouse doesn’t. I think he knows better but chooses to react however he feels without regard to what it teaches our children. What will it take to snap him out of his selfish actions? Comments from me only make him more defiant. Hmmm…parent or child? Any ideas? Maybe this one would be good for a newsletter. I enjoy your messages. Thank you!

  9. My daughter has two small children. One of them she talks nice to when he is doing something he shouldn’t be doing. The other child she talks to in a rude tone and seems to be on him all the time. He has started talking in a rude tone and getting easily upset I only wish she would stop this behavior before it changes him for life. But, unfortunately, she doesn’t hear herself.

  10. My ex-husband was the same as Chris’. Unfortunately, even though I left him over a year ago, it will take a lot longer to re-train my children (who are now older teenagers) to not treat others with such disdain. The selfish “what’s in it for me” attitude of yelling and raising fists being the first reaction to frustration rather than “slow down, breathe, and think it through” isn’t easily erased after years of modeling by one parent. The loudness seems to overrule what the other parent is trying to model. Setting a good example is extremely hard in that situation and it becomes exhausting work. It is much easier to model desireable behaviour now, but it is exhausting to change the ingrained behaviour after ten years. My deepest wish is that I’d had the courage to leave years ago for the sake of my children’s future.

  11. It makes you stop and think, we all know that we’re honestly trying, but is it our best, we can’t let life get the best of us, not while the children are present. Unfortunately I lost it with my 2 yo. dad the other day and she was here and I know I scared her when I was yelling, I was trying to get him to put her first, and yet I let my anger towards him come first, no violence but yyelling is just as bad. My hope is that I can control my feelings next time, because it doesn’t teach her anything positive, and isn’t that all we’re trying to do? Thanks for listening, Nancy

  12. What a great post. I’m a teacher (nearly!) and we spend a lot of time learning how to model good behaviour in order to experience good behaviour by the children, if only parents could be gifted with similar training! I was sitting in an airport yesterday and listening to a couple talking to each other. The words they were saying were ordinary and everyday yet the tone and inflections they were using showed absolute disdain and anger towards each other. Hard to fathom, perhaps they had a fight that morning but the message I got was not that one wanted the baby’s bottle filled or whatever they were saying but that they each thought the other was wrong, an idiot and not worth the effort of replying too. Parents, be aware of the tone you are using to each other and others around your children, the intonation and inflections in your voice tell tens times more about your opinion than your words in the same way that communication is 10% words and 90% body language. keep up the good posts!

  13. Thank you Ellen for this encouraging article. This is what I endeavor to live my life by being an example to the children, so it becomes natural behavior for them to be nice to each other and to others.
    Thank you for all your good articles.
    God bless

  14. i want my kids to be well mannered and yet at times i am not. your article got me zeroing in on my imperfections, i can be impatient, sluggish and rude sometimes…and i guess its important to be aware of our body language and tone since body language is understood something like 90% of what we saying.

    thank you so much for these very important and much needed parenting/relationship tips.

  15. This was the best post ever. Replies included. Some encouragement for Chris – remember that everyone is different, and that your children may choose to model your behaviour when they are grown, rather than their dad’s. Remember that whilst you stick at trying to model what you think is right, at least you are giving them that opportunity to learn from you, and what they do with it is really up to them, not you.
    I find it helpful to remember that part of my role-modelling is how the children see me dealing with my husband, and I try and model that whatever your views on another person, everyone deserves respect, no matter who they are.
    If we want to live happily with other people then we must have respect for each other’s views. This is sometimes very hard, particularly in close or important relationships, but I believe that the rewards that come from permanent relationships (whether with a parent, child, relative or friend) are worth it.

  16. All I can say is I hope this isn’t true–or not in it’s entirety, because I was raised by people who were entirely unhealthy role models of what an adult does and how they respond to life–one was a violent alcoholic with unpredictable and consistent outbursts of emotion, withdrawal, and rage, the other an extreme codependent who responded to life by trying to fix & control everything and everyone around her, stuff her feelings,both responding by reacting to life like a victim, with poor emotional control, a tendency toward severe depression, anger, and in my mother (the codependent’s case) intense and out of control anxiety, and both with low self esteem and no idea how to run a family, no good sense of boundaries, never mind the judgment, criticism, constant emotional attacks and on going threat of physical and emotional abuse. So I certainly hope that children can, as adults, make their own choices and decide that, yes, while this has had an impact on my character, I choose to learn to become healthy. THAT I try to role model for my daughter–and it isn’t perfect, I’ve got issues–but one would hope both children and parents are not ruled by the way parents live and react and BE in life because otherwise, people like myself, and my daughter, are doomed. I choose to be in recovery and try to learn the life skills I never learned–sometimes I feel stupid not knowing what other people seem to just understand by osmosis. But unfortunately people can’t give their kids skills they don’t have, all you can do is say to them, look, I’m trying to make this better. And do better than your own parents did.

  17. I think, for me, part of modeling behavior means being aware of whose behavior you are modeling and whether or not you want to integrate that into your life. I too, had a horrible role model for a mother – she put her boyfriend first and moved cross country (moving us froma half an hour trip from our dad to a five hour one)to be with him. Now I am a single mom myself and while I am not all giving and all sacrificing, I absolutely put my child first – taking what I learned from my mother and turning it around to my daughter’s benefit. She is one of the most confident kids I know – and pretty happy too!
    Evidently my ex also pushed aside his mother’s bad parenting as he is a hands on dad who works with me in the parenting of our daugter – something neither one of us had growing up.
    So I think it’s being aware of the parenting you had and embracing it or refuse to follow on that path.

  18. The tips are oh, so true!
    My son is 15, and to my delight and sometimes, chagrin, I see what he has learned from his environment. As long as I continue to learn and improve, I am still in the game!

    Best to all!

  19. Ellen, Thank you so much for this site. I come here when I’ve had a hard day with my kids to remind myself of where I need to be and how to get there. My 3 yr old is very high needs this article really hit home with what we’re dealing with at the moment.

    ~Ellen (formerly of Monsey! :))