Leading by example

HiRes1The biggest influence on a child’s life is their earliest role model – that’s you. Research has shown that parents have a huge impact on the physical and emotional development of a child.

The way we are and our behaviour, for better or worse, shape our children. Our addictions and the relationships we have, whether it’s with our partner or even our interactions with other people, can affect our children. Research has even shown that if one parent overeats and is overweight, there’s a good chance their children will be overweight, too. In short, our children learn from the example we set.

One of the key areas for good parenting is to positively influence our child’s self-esteem. But the vulnerabilities of a parent, as well as their strengths, can become a child’s. So what can we do about it? The first step is to be aware of how our behaviour might influence our child. If we drink to excess or smoke, a child may think these behaviours are acceptable, and even attractive.

As a parent, positive role modelling begins with positive behaviours and example setting. There is a definite parallel between the example set by the parent and the habits of a child. For example, young kids need to stay fit and active. Parents can contribute to their family’s healthy lifestyle by getting outside and getting active with their kids, and encouraging them to take up sport. An Australian Bureau of Statistics survey in 2009 showed that spending a lot of time watching TV, DVDs or videos is associated with lower participation in organised sport or dancing. Children who spent 40 or more hours in a fortnight watching TV, DVDs or videos were 10% less likely to participate in organised sport or dancing compared to children who watched TV for less than 20 hours.

So what key things can you do as a parent to get your kids up off the couch and moving?

• Make sure that some family outings offer opportunities for physical activity, such as playing sport together. You can kick a footy around the backyard or shoot some hoops at the local playing fields – their are plenty of inexpensive activities you can do with your family

• Lead by example – be physically active yourself.

• Encourage your child to walk or ride their bicycle for short trips, rather than relying on you to drive them.•Get behind your child’s efforts at school and in local sport. Make sure you’re there at each match, cheering them on from the sidelines.

• Set time limits on sedentary activities, such as watching TV and playing computer games.

•Consult with your child’s school on ways to encourage greater participation in sports and physical activity, if there’s a need.

But making sure kids stay active and healthy is only half the story. As parents, we need to be mindful that our mental and emotional issues, concerns and habits will rub off on our children. If a child’s home life is full of aggressive and violent behaviour, it puts the children at risk for becoming violent themselves later in life. And you can bet that the excuses you make for your own vices and destructive behaviour, like smoking and drinking, will echo from your child’s mouth sooner or later. “I only smoke when I drink” or “I only drink each night to relax” are often the same excuses a teenager who’s taken up smoking and drinking will make, too.

The strength of your relationships (or lack of them) with your partner and extended family will be noted by your child. Letting them see positive interactions with the important people in your life provides a good base that they can later take into their own relationships. From the moment your child is born, your words and actions shape who your child will become.

Your insecurities and your self-esteem – the value you put on your abilities, talents and worth – will have a deep and long-lasting impact. That’s one side of the coin. The other is that your positive sense of who you are and where you have come from – your identity, culture and connection to family and community – are all positive strengths that you can pass on to your child.

If you’re going to hold a mirror up to yourself, remember the good stuff, too, and remember to pass it down because it’s one of the most important gifts you can give your child as a parent.

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