At long last, I am happily returning this week with a new installment in a series of posts I began last January called (Back to) the Basics for all of you new and renewed parents looking to invent, reinvent, or revitalize your parenting. Obviously, because it’s appearing on this particular blog, we’re talking about parenting approaches in the realm of Natural Parenting, Attachment Parenting, Connection Parenting, and Empathetic or Empathy Parenting. I tend to lump all the former ones together under the heading of Cro-Magnon Parenting — which is the basics of connection, and forming appropriate parent-child attachments in the most natural way(s); and the last one I usually call Empathetic Parenting — which is the basis of how we continue to relate with our children as they progress beyond infancy and pre-logical stages of development. SO if that’s you, and you’re looking for someone else’s input on approaching parenting — then you’ve come to the right place.
Digging right in — I want to just tell you from the outset the bottom line of this entire post. If you’ve got time to read no further then know this: In terms of teaching our children how to be and do in this life; and in terms of nurturing their best possible growth and development and their best possible habits for self-assurance, success, and happiness; and in terms of establishing and maintaining the sacred bond between us and our babies which makes all further parenting easier and more cooperative — there is no better tool already naturally at your disposal than modeling. I’ve said it before and I will repeat it over and over again, the single practice of showing our children what we expect and know and feel and do is both absolutely necessary, and absolutely unavoidable. We do it all the time, whether we are conscious of it or not; and for all of our sakes, we ought to be consciously using it as often as we can muster the will to do so.
There, if you have to go now without reading on, you at least know what you need to know. Now go model what you want your kids to know. And keep your eyes peeled for the miraculous a/effects.
If you want a little more info, though, or a few suggestions of where to put your attention then scroll on down!
For starters, let me get more specific. What I mean when I talk about modeling is, of course, not posing for the latest fashion spread in Vogue. I’m talking about every (single) way we show our children how we are existing in the world. It gets very subtle — from how we hold our babies, or a simple shift of the eyes, to a passing smirk on the face, or change in vocal tone, or even down to the energy we’re carrying, or the unrelated thoughts that are keeping us distant at any particular moment — but there are also plenty of transparent versions — from chastising our children for certain choices, or celebrating other choices, to showing them how to tie a shoe or how to navigate a disagreement with a sibling. At every moment, we are communicating to our children through how we are being with them and what we decide to show them; and I happen to think it’s in our best interests and, more importantly, in our children’s best interests if we spend some time getting really focused on what message we want to be broadcasting, getting really intentional about how we deliver our message, and getting really practiced at watching what we are doing.
Now I should mention, before I go on, if you want more information about modeling, more about why, or how, or in what situations it might be useful, then just click on the hypertext “modeling” link above and that will take you to a list of two dozen other posts on the subject.
The other thing I want to do quickly today is give you a brief sense of some great opportunities for intentional modeling. So roughly in overlapping order of development:
- Even before your baby gets here — start modeling that she is welcome! Talk to her, sing to her, play music to her, rub your belly and let the sun shine on it (literally), let your baby know with your calm attitude that she is coming into a safe life.
- Take the time to develop a birth plan, and enact it to the best of your ability at the time of birth in order to offer your baby the gentlest possible birth you can manage. Welcome him immediately into your arms and onto your chest so that he can hear your heart and your voice and smell your familiar scent for an extended period before anything else happens to him. Show him that everything is all right by being his calm, sturdy, welcoming home.
- In the first months, model safety and security in all your actions. Respond quickly and calmly to every distress signal. Prepare for taking the time to move at a pace that accommodates remaining at ease. Interact with your baby and reassure her that she is valued and well-cared-for. Talk to her, sing to her, play the same music that she heard in-utero. Take her with you everywhere, keep her close to your body, give her plenty of skin to skin contact, and feed her on demand.
- As your baby grows, play mimicry games, show him how to do things, tell him what you’re doing, ask him to do things for fun and help him as he’s figuring it out. Continue modeling that he is safe in the world, that you are taking care of his needs, providing for his well-being, and looking out for him. Continue showing him that is of value to you, that you honour his perspective, that you empathize with him and want to help him. Model habits that you want your child to adopt — be polite to him, say please and thank you, be gentle, be positive, be compassionate, celebrate his experiences with him without judging them for him (i.e. withhold praise and valuation) so he sees that his experience has it’s own value.
- Toddlers are ripe for picking up behaviors and actions. Show your toddler how to do anything. She will copy you until the cows come home. If you’ve been making good use of modeling throughout, and have done other things to nurture the relationship you have with your child, then any time you want her to do something, or even to be some way in particular situations, then you have only to show her that enough times and she will imitate you — almost without being able to stop herself. It’s wired into our brains (and greatly facilitated by healthy bonding/identification) — up to 20% of the neurons that fire in our heads for any particular action we might take (e.g. picking up an apple and raising it to your mouth) also fire when we just see someone enact that action, even if we’ve never done the action before. In fact, some of those neurons just fired in you just from reading the example because you have picked up an apple and you know what it’s like. SO show your toddlers what to do, how to be, how to address issues, how to navigate adversity, and how to empathize with others!
- As you continue parenting, you’ll find more and more places and ways to use your ability to show and your child’s compulsion to imitate for your own familial harmony, and (with any luck) for your child’s best possible development. As he ages, you child’s need for modeling input will shift, of course. As he becomes more established in the world, you will want to continue with some of the modeling ideas, above, around security and safety and value, but also show him that he is more and more safe on his own, and that he can rely on himself and his judgement and his own values (i.e. model trust, allow choice, withhold heavy doses of judgment). Additionally with regard to certain practices like empathizing or even cleaning up toys, you will want to continue showing him how you like it, and soliciting his cooperation, and begin adding in more dialogue about it. Talk to your child about how things work and how to succeed and how to be happy. Show your child your joy.
- When your baby is no longer letting you call her your “baby”, there’s a whole slew of continuing modeling to do, again with some new twists and further development. Modeling trust is paramount at this point. Our children cannot trust themselves fully if we don’t show them our trust in them. So give her opportunities to experience your trust, and faith, and appreciation. Show your pre-teen, your teen, and your young adult child in increasing detail and frequency as she ages what you want her to know by the time she leaves your home. Be what you hope for her, and rely on the relationship and the nature of connected parenting to help guide her toward her own version of those things.
So that’s the long and short of it. Modeling is something we’re all already doing all of the time. So getting intentional with it is simply a matter of paying attention to the pay-off. In all the actions that we can notice or be aware of before we exhibit them, if we can keep our focus on what we are broadcasting — remembering to consider, “What is s/he getting from what I am doing/going to do now?” — then we increasingly get into the habit of sending out the messages we really want our kids to get. With just a little practice, heck, with even just a little bit of watching what we’re doing, new patterns start to form, and new practices become old hat.
Want even more thoughts about modeling? You can check out this post I wrote last year, or click on the “modeling” tag in the tag-cloud to the right on this page, or get in contact with me directly to ask questions or talk about your own situation (I’ll either offer to write a future post about the general subject, or I’ll offer my personal support): nmmctague.cpcc@gmail. You can also scroll up to the top right of this page and sign up to get this blog delivered to your inbox — you can definitely count on me to write more about modeling in the future!
So to all you amazing models out there showing your stuff — as they say in the theatre business — break a leg!
And be well.