The brains of young children are like sponges that absorb information like it’s water. This has been proved by the many studies done on children. They mirror everything adults do around them, even if it’s non-essential. If you have children or are surrounded by them, you will know this. They will follow you around, trying to do the things you do in the same way.
This very behavior of theirs is a way for them to learn about the world and the external environment. A child will try to act like Spider-man after watching superhero movies or a child will come home after a school day and act like the teacher at home. This method of learning is called modeling.
Observational learning is a type of learning that occurs through observing and seeing the behavior of others, typically parents, siblings, teachers. Children pick up behaviors from people of authority. Albert Bandura is a psychologist who came up with this idea. He claimed that children learnt desired and undesired behavior through what is called observational learning. In his famous Bobo Doll experiment, he found out that children modeled the behavior that the adults had showcased.
The experiment brought a new perspective in learning methods of children and showed the importance of the external factors and environment that surrounds a child. There are factors surrounding this learning which include: attention, retention, initiation and motivation. The child must be aware of the model:how they are, if they like the model etc. Then the child must be able to remember and retrieve the behavior from their memory. The third factor is initiation, the observer (here, child) must be able to reproduce the actions physically or intellectually. The last factor is motivation. The child must be motivated enough to imitate the model.
MODELING IN CHILDREN
Children, till they start school, learn everything from the people around them (Caregivers, parents, grandparents, siblings etc.) Their sense of identity comes from them. Babies and toddlers absorb information around them through their senses. This means that babies copy the movements of adults and imitate the affection shown by their parents. This is the stage where they develop a sense of affection as well. Because the people around them kiss, hug and sing for them, they might show this same affection back to them.
As they grow and start preschool, their world expands. Suddenly, their caregivers and siblings are not the only models and authority figures they have. Teacher also start occupying this space. Children are exposed to their peers in this age. This give them an opportunity to build friendships and develop their social skills. If you have preschoolers at home, you will find them constantly talking about their teachers or what their friends did. This is the age where some children will line up their stuffed toys and act like teachers. This is also a period of great development in language. They will pick up cues and the tone of your voice. The Journal of Speech and Hearing Disorders reports that they imitate helps them develop their communication skills rather than the language structure.
Once they start school, children still continue to imitate their parents’ behavior. This is where they develop their sportsmanship skills and learn social cues. This is the period where children start playing games with other students, sometimes without adult supervision. And they will learn social cues from parents, teachers, siblings and their peers. It’s essential to be mindful around your children at this time. In distress, and anger, your children will pick cues on how you respond to these emotions. Then they will imitate these very reactions when they’re in distress.
Teenage years are hard to navigate, and there’s no one rule on how to make it less turbulent. This is the age where children want to be independent but still observe adult behaviors. They develop their own thinking but they also look to adults as a way to guide them. And they are also heavily influenced by their peers at this age. They might develop undesirable habits like smoking.
TIPS TO ENSURE MODELING IS EXPERIENCED IN A POSITIVE WAY
Here are some tips that can be helpful!
Be intentional when you’re with your children: Think carefully, ‘what is this action of my going to convey?” or think about how it is going to impact the behavior of your children. If you’re not in an environment that is positive for your child, think about how you can create safe spaces for them by holding conversations.
Keep your promises!: Children learn this from their parents. If you promise your child some reward and then don’t fulfill it, they will remember and their perception about promises will change. Especially in the growing years, this is essential.
Model good ways to control anger and frustration: your child picks up cues on how to respond to the negative emotions they are experiencing. If you scream, shout or throw things when you’re angry, not only will they model this behavior but also they will be vary of these emotions as they grow up. And if you’re frustrated around your child, you can sit down with them and do a little breathing exercise. They will be better equipped to handle their negative emotions!
Listen actively: The importance of listening to your children cannot be overstated. When you listen and when you’re empathetic to your child’s experience, they will feel heard and accepted which will help their self-esteem and make them more independent. Along with that, they will extend the same kindness to their peers and carry it along their lives.
Focus on the positive: When growing up, the child will exhibit undesirable behaviors. This is the time to explain to your child why the behavior was undesirable and what is expected instead. How you correct behaviors also has an impact on the children and then later, they will not be afraid to make mistakes and be accountable for it. When the undesirable behavior is removed, it should be rewarded with at least a compliment or some special privileges.
Another important thing to remember is that as parents, you are not your children’s only models. They constantly learn new information through other models. Be it the content they consume from the internet or other models like older children (like cousins) or even teachers. If you’re allowing them some screen time, it is important to monitor the type of content they consume. For example, if your child is watching a cartoon where the character is being mean to another friend, then you can stop the video and have a conversation about it. You should have an open dialogue with them, explain to them why it’s wrong and what should be done instead. Open dialogues about sensitive issues like bullying, gender and responsibility should be encouraged. This develops in the child a deep sense of empathy and will instill in them the importance of understand and accommodating all kinds of people in their lives. (This will be discussed in length in other articles.)
To show an example of modeling, we had posted an video on our Instagram and YouTube channel where our founder, Aarathi Selvan, spoke to her children, Anika and Neel. In this video, it’s evident how much an open conversation impacts your relationship with your child. In the video, Anika and Neel discuss the videos they watch on YouTube and other games they play. They also said that they dislike the videos if they find them to be ‘bad’ or not showing good things. Upon asking how they realize if something’s bad, they pointed to our founder. The sibling duo said that their mother had told them what’s wrong and what’s right. This is one way of modeling. Watch it here!
Pause for Perspective