mother and son standing together

A child’s relationship with their parent or caregiver can be one of the most important that they'll have in their life. As a parent, you are your child’s first teacher, and your actions often say much more than the words you use.

If you live your life in a way that reflects your values and what is important to you, then what you say and what you do will match up. This provides clear lessons for your child about what you expect from them, as well as what they can expect from you. It’s important to think about ways you can be a positive role model for your child as they become more autonomous and independent in adolescence.

How does role modelling work?

How you behave sends a signal to your child that this is the sort of behaviour you approve of. If what children observe from your behaviour is different from what they are being told, then your child is likely to become confused, and possibly resentful. It may also blur expectations and boundaries, leading to conflict and frustration between you and your child.

Role modelling works in relation to virtually everything – from how you handle emotions such as frustration and anger, to how you respect and relate to other people, to how you respond to stress and cope with difficulties. It also influences patterns such as eating, exercise, how you look after yourself, and problem solving.

What good parental role modelling looks like

Depending on what’s important to you, the clearest way to be a positive role model is to show your child how to be the person you want them to be.

Here are some things you could model:

  • Positive relationships. Including your child in family discussions is a good way for them to understand how people can get along with others and work together. A child’s family is their first training ground for relationships, and usually one of the strongest influences.
  • The importance of learning. A positive approach to education and knowledge can help your child value the process of discovery and learning. An optimistic outlook generally supports positive outcomes.
  • Taking responsibility for your mistakes. Openly admitting your mistakes, and talking about how you can correct them, will show your child how to be accountable for their own actions. It also teaches them that it’s okay to make mistakes and that you can always bounce back.
  • Respect. Showing respect to others and trying to problem solve conflicts that arise, rather than simply getting angry and upset, will show them what respect and problem solving looks like.

Look after your own wellbeing

Being the best parent you can be and supporting your child through their teenage years requires patience, calmness, time and resilience. Although your family is a priority, they also rely on you. Make your own wellbeing as important as that of your family, and don’t feel guilty for needing time to yourself. Privacy, space, peace and quiet are often needed to recharge your batteries so you can meet your family’s needs.

No one can do it alone – if you need support, reach out to people you trust and respect for advice. You might find that other parents have similar experiences, and it can be comforting to know you’re not alone in feeling overwhelmed at times.

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