Confessions of a former Teacher: Modeling

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A teacher, behavior analyst, and mother of a little girl shares her insider tips that she has learned through her years of working with children, which she now realizes she must use them at home as well to maintain order. 

By Tasha Beene

Modeling involves demonstrating something you want your child to do. Even children less than one year old can repeat what they have seen others do. At a basic level, when they hear “sit down” and see someone lower their body until their bottom is touching a chair, they learn how to sit.  It’s easier for children to learn skills when the words and the actions are repeatedly paired together.

As a classroom teacher, I modeled walking in hallway, greeting peers, and appropriate volume when talking for my students.  It was easy for me to do this in this professional setting and I did it consistently. However, I must confess that in my private life, modeling with my own child was harder and I did it less consistently. For example, I might tell her to stop yelling by yelling “STOP YELLING….USE YOUR INSIDE VOICE!!!” Although modeling was happening, I modeled the very behavior I wanted her to decrease. As you can imagine, yelling went up and using “inside” voice went down. When selecting between listening to what I told her to do and following what I showed her, my child selected the behavior she saw me doing (the Copy Cat Rule). “Do as I say and not as I do” does not work!

To turn things around, I had to parent like a teacher! In my classroom, if one of my students yelled to make requests, I would first model/demonstrate how to make a request using the appropriate volume. Then I would only grant requests that were asked using the appropriate volume. Technically this part also involves reinforcement but it starts with a good model/demonstration of the appropriate behavior!

Any guesses for what happened to yelling in my house after I used these same classroom strategies with my child? If you guessed, yelling went down and “Excuse me mommy, can I have _____? Please….Thank you!” went up, you guessed right!

Quick Tips

  • Model/Demonstrate the behavior you want
  • Provide an accurate match of your words and actions
  • Remember the “Copy Cat Rule”
  • Keep up the good work!  You will always be your child’s first teacher!

16 Responses to Confessions of a former Teacher: Modeling

  1. Natasha says:

    Your right! I need to pay more attention to how I respond. I am going to try to keep on top of responding with the proper behavior that I am asking for.

    • Editor says:

      Natasha,
      We are so glad you enjoyed the article and had a great “take away” from it! Let us know if there are other topics you would like to read about.

    • Tasha says:

      Hello Natasha! Thank you for your comments! You are so right being aware of how we are responding is often the first step! It’s a process so don’t beat yourself up if make a few mistakes along the way! Those times will provide additional learning opportunities for you and our child. It’s interesting, our children also learn from seeing how we respond when we “mess up.” I’ve had those moments with my daughter when I had to say “I’m sorry…mommy didn’t do that right. Next time I will ___.” Sounds like you’re off to a great start!

  2. Sanam says:

    This is very interesting. In Montessori for example they teach the child through “modeling”. First the teacher shows as the child is watching and then the child will pretty much imitate.

    • Tasha says:

      Hello Sanam! Thank you for your comments! I love the modeling approach and hands on activities that Montessori programs offer! My daughter attended a Montessori program when we lived in America. There’s an instructional strategy called direct instruction that also uses modeling. It’s also known as the “I do – we do – you do” method. First the teacher models the activity for the student. Then the teacher and the student will complete the activity together. In the final step, the student will complete the activity independently while the teacher observes. Building confidence in their ability to complete requests and activities independently is the ultimate goal for our children.

  3. Danielle says:

    Great article. It’s funny how once we arrive home, all the training and good intentions can disappear in a moment. The tips you provide are great tools to keep in mind when trying to change behaviors in the household.

    Even as adults we have to remember that actions speak louder than words!! That sending conflicting messages by doing one thing while saying something different, invites interpretation. The interpretation most likely to be followed is our actions. The positive note and tool that I got from your article is to couple our actions with our words so that the action serves to reinforce the words.

    Thanks again for the tools you provided.

    • Sanam says:

      Danielle:

      I completely agree with you on the adults part. I think we forget as adults sometimes and tell the children one thing but end up doing the opposite thing ourselves!

    • Tasha says:

      Hello Danielle! Thank you for your comments! I completely agree with you! Conflicting messages do invite the child to interpret or select the message they prefer following. It is very important to pair actions and words to present the clearest message. We have to remember the copy cat rule! I recently had a bad taxi experience in which the driver cheated me on the price of my trip. With my daughter looking on, I said “it’s not nice of you to do that.” While exiting the taxi my daughter restated verbatim the entire exchange between myself and the taxi driver. Hours later I overheard her telling another kid “that wasn’t very nice of you to do that!” I am so thankful I modeled standing up for yourself and being polite that day!

  4. Nita Chambers says:

    Natasha, this article is just what I needed. I am trying to change the arguing and loud behaviors of my grandchildren. I find myself yelling at them while using discipline or correction. I will now attempt to lower my voice, give them the reasons why they should not yell, etc. Thanks a lot!

    • Tasha says:

      Hello Nita! Thanks for your comments! I am glad you plan on using modeling with your grandchildren. Being consistent is a process. I am certainly not suggesting that you will never have to raise your voice. I do believe that if everything we say while disciplining our children is so important that we raise our voice to say it, then nothing we say is really that important. Similar to the saying “if everything’s a priority then nothing’s a priority.” It’s never too late to insert a new habit! I am sure your grandchildren are already benefiting from the model you provide!

  5. Dawn says:

    Children are born without social knowledge or social skills, and they eagerly look for someone to imitate in an effort to learn acceptable behaviors. I think many people overlook this part & often go straight to reinforcement.

    • Tasha says:

      Hello Dawn! Thank you for your comments! I completely agree! Children learn through imitating and mimicking others, hence the copy cat rule! A proactive approach is always better than one that is reacting after the child is engaging in inappropriate behavior. It takes practice but eventually the parent and the child will increase appropriate behaviors!

  6. Jeanette says:

    Great article and a very vivid recollection of my child-rearing days. We must not forget that children often “Copy Cat” what they see and experience outside the home as well. I recall responding too quickly with an incorrect response due to a surprised realization that my child’s action/behavior was not copied from anyone in my home. I should have quickly snap into responding by modeling the appropriate behavior as opposed to trying to figure out “now where/who did they get that from”. Enjoyed!

  7. Juanita Henry says:

    Wonderful article and so true. I tbinkwe need to be reminded of the art of modeling the behaviors we want our children to follow. Great tips!

  8. Rick says:

    Great article! I try to use this in a business setting too!

  9. Anita says:

    Great article. It took a while for me to learn that children are sponges. They model what they see regardless if the behavior is appropriate or inappropriate. It’s easy to be the parent to say “do as I say and not as I do,” but we know how unrealistic that can be.

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