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Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.
Dr. Schwartz's Weblog

Children and Parental Role Modeling

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. Updated: Dec 18th 2011

Children and Parental Role ModellingHow do you teach children the right values?

The old admonition that parents give to children is, "Don't do as I do, as I say." There is a problem with that old saying. The problem is that it doesn't work. The simple fact is that children learn mostly from what we do regardless of what we say. It's call "Role Modeling," and it's powerful. If we want our children to respect others, be aware of the importance of sharing, cooperate with others and respect those who are different then, it's necessary as parents to model those behaviors by behaving as we want them to behave.

There is a wonderful series of children's books and a television series that can be found on Nick Jr. or on Hulu called, "Little Bear." The series of wonderfully illustrated books are perfect as beginning readers for kids.

Maurice Sendak's "Little Bear" is a Canadian children's television series starring a Little Bear voiced by Kristin Fairlie. Originally produced by Nelvana for Nickelodeon, it currently airs on Treehouse TV in Canada and Nick Jr. in the United States. A direct-to-video full-length feature film was also created after the series ended. In The Little Bear Movie, Little Bear and his friends help a bear named, Cub, to help find his parents.
The characters in Little Bear are kind and helpful to one another and to others when problems arise. In this way, it teaches the values of giving to others, the importance of helping others and of being kind to those in need. These stories are based on the Little Bear series of books which were written by Else Holmelund Minarik, and illustrated by Maurice Sendak.

While stories have always been vital in communicating important life themes and cultural values, it is the way adults behave that reinforce these teachings. It's impossible to celebrate the Holiday Season, with it's emphasis on giving, without practicing giving and having children take part in the process. Attempting to teach generosity while selfishly not giving cannot succeed the value of kindness. In the same way, kindness only once a year does not mean much unless it is incorporated into a way of living.

For example, I remember a female patient from years ago in my practice who, although now an adult, never forgot what her mother did to her when she was a child. She was the oldest of two girls. She had a favorite doll that she particularly loved, especially since it was given to her by her father when she was younger. Her mother abruptly took it away and gave it to her younger sister. Needless to say, she felt heart broken, angry and resentful. There was no opportunity to discuss giving the doll, nor the importance of sharing and giving. Because they were a family that was short on money but long on bills, the doll could have provided an excellent opportunity to teach the importance for the entire family of sharing.

In a similar way, it's impossible to teach a child not to hit others if he is spanked. Telling a child not to hit falls on deaf ears if the parents use corporal punishment as a way to solve problems. Similarly, children who witness parents hitting one another are going to integrate that message rather than being told that violence is undesirable.

As parents, we teach our children that they should not use drugs and alcohol. However, if we drink and abuse drugs, the real message being taught is that there is nothing wrong with abusing substances.

We value giving, sharing, being kind and helpful and tolerant of others who are different and living a healthy life. In order to teach these values, we have to live in ways that help transmit those values to younger generations.

So, remember, children learn much more from what you do rather than what you say.

Your comments are encouraged.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD


Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.

Readers who live in the Boulder, Colorado metro area, or in Southwest Florida may contact Dr. Schwartz for face-to-face consultation. He is also available for psychotherapy through Skype video for those who are not in Florida or Colorado. He can be reached via email at for details.

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