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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.
First, take a minute to think about the good examples you set for your child every day. And give yourself credit for bad habits that you've already changed to good ones for your child's benefit.
Now, ask yourself a few questions.
It's easy to help a child learn from his or her 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's an example: Let's say that you have a habit of yelling, which you don't want your child to do. So you set the goal of not yelling. Then you make a plan for how you'll handle those tough moments when you're angry or frustrated. This is not easy to do all at once, and you make some mistakes along the way. But you use those mistakes to teach your child a better way. Here are some tools for doing that.
For a serious problem like depression or an addiction, 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 him or her avoid having the same problem.
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. Talk about those successes and mistakes. If it feels right, play-act them. With your child, "rewrite" others' mistakes with better choices.
Use this list to start conversations with your child. 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?"
Be on the lookout for examples of good and bad behavior, both in real life and in the media. There are endless options for what you can talk about with your child.
October 23, 2013
Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine & Timothy R. Stockwell, PhD
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