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Role models come in all shapes and sizes for our kids; super heroes, sports figures, YouTube famous, dancers, teachers, parents/family, the list goes on and on.
When children are young, their role models tend to be fictional characters, who are usually pillars of how we would want our children to be. Honest, kind, helpful, courageous, among other traits. However, as they get older their role models tend to become real people. Either people they know in real life, or public figures. It’s at the point that we should start to involve ourselves with who are kids are looking up to, and why.
The Importance of Role Models
Role models have a huge impact on our kids. The role models that they look up to during their childhood, ultimately help shape who they are as human beings. As parents, we cannot discount the impression that these individuals make on our kids. In addition, we can’t choose who our kids gravitate to as a role model. We can encourage them to choose a role model that we would like them to have, but the reality of it is, they will end up choosing their own.
What if we disagree about who our child looks up to? What if we feel this particular role model is not setting the right examples for our children? If our children’s role model does not represent what we believe in, how do we handle that? What if that role model has indiscretions or makes poor choices that our children become aware of?
Ensuring that our children are looking up to the ‘right’ kind of people is important for their development. Below are some of my thoughts on how to guide them in their selection process and how to handle negative situations.
Be Your Child’s Best Role Model
Children are going to have many role models through their life, and even as adults. Many times, they will have more than one role model at a time. While their role models will continually change, you are the one constant role model that they will have. Remember, that they are watching you, even when you don’t think they are.
They are soaking in every decision you make. Watching how you treat your spouse and other family members. They are learning from you what should be important to them. Seeing how you stand up for yourself and others that you love. Learning your integrity, honesty, and what it means to be a ‘grown-up’. What they learn from you will ultimately shape who they are as an adult.
‘Real’ Role Models
While you will always be your child’s consistent role model, they will have others as well. Encourage children to gravitate towards role models that are present in their real lives; teachers, pastors, relatives, family friends, etc. This gives them an example of someone that they see day-to-day in various situations. It will help them identify with the role model and the positive traits that they see.
Ask children questions about what they like about their role model. For example:
- What do you like about name of role model?
- What does he/she do that you find interesting?
- In what ways do you think this person is good or has a positive impact?
- What do you think you have in common with name of role model?
The answers to these questions will give insight to what your child is looking for in a role model. Opening up this conversation will also enable you to help direct what they see in their role model. It also gives you an opportunity to highlight some important traits that they may have missed.
Personally, I would approach this role model and let them know that your child looks up to them. If this person realizes that they are having an impact, they may be willing to interact more often and in a more positive way.
Public Figures as Role Models
When a child’s role model is a public figure, this presents a whole different perspective. One should still inquiring about why a child looks up to a certain role model. However, their answers may be more about what the role model does (sports, job, movies, YouTube channel), rather than characteristic traits.
If you don’t know much about the person, take the time to research them as a ‘real’ person. What do they do to help the community the live in? What charities are they involved in? In general, how do they give back? Once you have this list of positive attributes, sit down with your children and discuss it with them. This will help them see beyond what it is that makes this person famous and show them the characteristic that make them a role model.
After researching this person, what if you don’t like what you found? This can be a tough situation. Telling your child that they can’t idolize this person is probably not the best approach; it may just make them like them even more. So, how do you handle it?
Depending on your child’s age, you may just want to be completely honest with them. Gently tell them why this person isn’t a good role model. Search for similar individuals that your child can use as a ‘replacement’ role model. Point out the things that this person does that would appeal to your child. Highlight the morals or values that you would want your child to gravitate to. This would also be great opportunity to encourage them to choose a role model present in their life, rather than a public figure.
If your child is too young to truly understand, the best approach would be to regularly talk about a ‘replacement’ role model. Again, it should be someone that would appeal to your child. Start mentioning, casually, about the great things that this person does. There is no guarantee that your child will change, but at least you will be giving them examples of a positive influence.
Role Models Aren’t Perfect
Role models are ‘real’ people, whether they are public figures or not. They make choices daily that impact their own lives. When our children’s role models makes a choice or does something that we don’t agree with, and our children learn about it, it can be difficult for our kids to understand.
It’s important that when our children’s role models make a bad choice that our children are aware of, we must take the time to talk to our kids about it. Explain to them what the person did, and why it was not appropriate. This becomes a great opportunity to teach our children about the choices they make, and the impact that it may have on others. It is also an opportunity to talk to our children about what the person should have done in the situation so they are aware of the right way to handle it.
Many times, unfortunately, bad behavior is glorified in the media. The media is usually quick to report when a public figure does something wrong. However, you rarely see when public figures do positive things. As parents, we should seek out the positives and replace them with the negatives. It’s important that we reinforce the attributes of our children’s role model that we want them to remember.
It’s Not Up To You
In the end, it’s not up to you to decide who your child looks up to. They will make that decision on their own, and it will change on a regular basis. It’s important for us, as parents, to stay dialed in to who our children are looking up to and continue to have these conversations with them. We can highlight the good, and discuss the bad, but we can only hope that our children’s role models take the job as seriously as we would want them to!