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The Importance of Parent as a Role Model

Do you ever watch your child and find yourself wondering where their behavior came from? “I have always taught them to be respectful and honest, where did they learn to be so sneaky and entitled?

And where is the work ethic I’ve been preaching since 1st grade?” Many parents have thoughts along these lines at some point as they watch their children grow and change.

While teens exhibit many strange behaviors, it can be hard to believe but many they actually inherited from their parents. Let’s take a look at how you role model your values and why that is so important.

Show, Don’t Tell: The Power of Leading by Example

One of the core tenets of good writing taught in high school is “show, don’t tell, ” and this applies to parenting as well (or any other situation where one is a role model). Right from the start, your child is watching and learning from you.

Parents are the ultimate role models, and while we all adopt behaviors and values from teachers and peers along the way, parents are the most consistent presence in almost every child’s life, especially while they are still living at home.

Your ability to connect with people and live in line with your values will set the tone for how your teen or young adult will show up. The way that you talk about your colleague at work or handle conflict with your spouse is something they are more likely to do than what you tell them.

It may take some digging to find the parallels between your behaviors and those of your teenager. You might have sophisticated and socially acceptable ways to deal with parts of yourself that you’d rather not look at.

Here are a couple examples of some parallels that may not be immediately apparent.

  • After getting home from a stressful day at work, one of the first things you say is, “I need a drink!” While one glass of wine may be benign to you, the communication is that substances, like alcohol, are a useful way to deal with stress.
  • You get frustrated with your spouse and snap at them, maybe you blame them or even call them a name. You’ve been doing this for years, and maybe you make amends later in the privacy of your bedroom or just shrug it off and know that you’ll both relax and come around in time. Your child sees the disagreement, but not the repair and learns that that’s just how it goes.

Even when it seems like your child doesn’t listen to anything you say to them, they pick up on all of your behavior and whether you want them to or not they tend to follow in your footsteps, so tread carefully.

This doesn’t mean you’re on thin ice and need to change everything about your life and your parenting. Simply consider which behaviors you want your child to pick up from you and use that as motivation to practice what you preach

Ways to Improve your Positive Role-modeling

Here are some tips on how to improve your role-modeling. Start by being gentle with yourself.

You’ve been doing the best you can! Along with some negative behaviors that you have inadvertently taught your kid, you also have role-modeled many positive habits from brushing your teeth to driving the speed limit(ish).

Start by giving yourself a pat on the back, even if the situation seems dire right now. Here are some behaviors to focus on for positive role-modeling:

  • Emotional Regulation: Show how you manage stressful or frustrating situations. Take some deep breaths before responding to someone who is angering you. Role-model how to regroup when something doesn’t go as planned.
  • Respect and Kindness: The way that you treat and talk about others will impact how your child does too. Do you speak kindly of others even when they are not present? Do you go out of your way to be kind to others? Do you show openness towards people who are different than you?
  • Growth Mindset: Studies have shown that our minds are very adaptable, even as adults. We can transform our weakness into a strength with practice. Some people think of themselves as a static entity, saying, “I’m bad at that,” which can limit their ability to learn new skills or improve upon weaknesses. Just knowing that our brains can adapt and learn continuously is half the battle. Try using positive language around challenges. Notice the difference between, “you’re just not a math person” and “I see how much effort you are putting into your math homework.” Focusing on and rewarding perseverance versus natural talent can set you and your child up for long-term growth.
  • Communication: Use clear and assertive communication with and around your children. Involve them in talks about house rules and consequences. This lets them feel important, and you can practice negotiation and problem-solving. State your expectations clearly along with any positive or negative consequences. Hold firm and compassionate boundaries.


These suggestions are a great place to start, but the list of ways that you lead by example is endless. Set yourself an achievable and tangible goal to change the behavior that you feel may be setting a poor example.

Remember that change takes time and work, and that help is available. If your teen or young adult is struggling, they may have a hard road ahead and knowing that you are willing to take on a personal challenge as well helps them not feel so alone in their struggle.

Finally, if your child is struggling and you want them to get treatment or see a therapist, consider seeing a therapist of your own. The more you go through a parallel process of your own, the stronger your connection and ability to support your child will be.

Getting Professional Help for Teens and Young Adults Struggling with Behavior Issues

Changing behavior can be hard, both for parents and their children. Luckily, there are lots of resources out there to help your family be as healthy and happy as possible.

If your child is struggling with drug or alcohol abuse and underlying mental health issues, Sandstone Care is here to help. We provide a continuum of care and involve the parents, so the whole family can grow together.

We offer a continuum of care for adolescents and young adults in Colorado, Virginia, Maryland, and Illinois. Call (888) 850-1890 today to find out more about our programs.

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