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Parents as Models

Often when parents bring their child for therapy, part of the reason is because they want to find ways to be supportive of their child. While parents request large interventions, there are smaller ways parents can significantly help. One of these ways is modeling positive behavior for their child.

Modeling behavior is as obvious as it sounds – parents perform the behaviors they want children to imitate and incorporate. From an early age, kids look to the adults in their lives to inform them about reacting to and behaving in certain situations.

After the last post about coping skills, it is important to understand the ways parents can and do contribute to how children manage their feelings. Let’s get into it!*

*Quick note: I know parents are human and sometimes working on some of these things can be difficult! Work on things when you can, and remember to give yourself grace.

Just the discussion of helpful coping skills from parents is modeling positive behavior. By having a conversation, parents are modeling openness and acceptance of difficult situations and expression of feelings. This encourages children to be open with themselves, parents, teachers, friends, etc. Discussing the coping skills parents use can also help their kids see their parents as people too. Understanding that parents sometimes need time and space and ways to cope, it encourages empathy. Just talking about feelings and what parents need to feel better is modeling better behavior.

I also encourage parents to model behavior by discussing things that may not be obvious to their child. For example, a client’s parents recently told me that their daughter knows they have a healthy relationship with each other. When I asked how their daughter knew, they just said it was obvious. This moment is a perfect opportunity to openly acknowledge and point out what they are modeling. I encouraged the parents to be vocal about what makes their relationship great. For example, saying “I trust you” in front of their child, telling each other specific ways they make each other happy and apologizing to each other for disagreements in front of their child. While things may be obvious to adults, it is important that children understand the specific aspects that make things healthy or unhealthy, whether it’s relationships or handling emotions.

Now, let’s talk about behaviors themselves. If a parent brings their child to speak with me because they aren’t expressing their anxiety appropriately, I typically ask how the child has been suggested to express it. Parents are the first lines of defense for giving suggestions on handling tough emotions. If a child sees a parent white knuckling or shutting down in response to negative emotions, that will be what the child does too. If a child sees a parent failing to apologize for their mistakes, that will be what the child does too. If a child sees parents taking their frustration out on another family member without provocation, that will be what the child does too. For better or for worse, that is how our brain development works.

This is where it is important for parents to take an honest inventory – what are areas that may need different approaches? Do you need to take a little time after arriving home from work to shake off the day’s frustrations? Do you need to ask your children for five minutes when you start to get frustrated? Do you need to take a walk when things feel overwhelmed? Figure that out and then acknowledge it with your children. There are little things that can and should be done to ensure that children understand how to healthily address how they feel. When parents can incorporate these behaviors, it models good because and, more importantly, makes parenting feel a little less overwhelmed.

If you feel you have done your best and you are still worried about your child’s behavior, reach out to me. Sometimes it takes an objective person to suggest new things parents haven’t considered before. I love being a soundboard and a new person in a child’s life to help them through their struggles.

I (Gillian) am the owner of Tavernier Therapy Group. I am a Licensed Professional Counselor, Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Provider and a Certified Sex Offender Treatment Provider. I work with teenagers who struggle to connect with their parents and am currently accepting clients! Take a look around my website and get to know me. I look forward to hearing from you!


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