Imitation and Modeling.

In this video, a small child is demonstrating the facial expressions and language she has learned that coincide with various feelings, along with a good dose of humor, encouragement, and success. She may not "feel" angry when she does the angry face, any more than she knows who George Bush is. Learning emotional skills, like learning words and behaviors, takes a lot of repetition, changes of context, and personal relevance.

What do I mean by personal relevance? You may remember the scene in Helen Keller's life story, when she first learns to sign? The teacher takes her to the pump and runs cool water over her hand, while signing the letters for water in her palm. Suddenly Helen makes the connection, in a way you just couldn't replicate by mere repetition.

Imitation of adult behaviors is a powerful learning tool for children (and other adults). Your modeling of the respect, kindness, honesty and eagerness to learn that you want to see in your child is what brings those qualities to the forefront. Whether it's the words you say or how you say them, your child is learning them. The way you use the objects in your child's life, from toys to books, to knicknacks and food, all are lessons for you child in how they will treat their things, and those of others. The way you treat your child, and the way you treat others in front of your child, including yourself-- is how your child learns to treat others. Sound like a huge responsibility? It is. You'll have lots of do-overs, but the overall message you want to give your child is one of healthy self discipline, problem-solving, moderation, social grace, and intellectual curiosity. We all make mistakes, and we all have our weaknesses. As adults, it's our job to be self aware, and recognize what messages we're sending our children by what we choose to do.


Distract and redirect

Two of the simplest tools in your parenting toolbox, distraction and redirection work pretty well from the moment a child is old enough to get into mischief. Whether the baby's fussing or the toddler is heading for the china cabinet, a funny noise, an appropriate toy, or simply a hey sweetie! can get her attention long enough for you to redirect her behavior. As your child becomes old enough to fuss about bedtime and toothbrushing, you can use distraction to keep him happy while he's getting ready. Tell a story about his favorite animal brushing his teeth or about a teddy bear who puts on her pajamas and asks for a story. Or simply talk about whatever is her favorite subject de jour while moving her along the process.

As kids get older, there will still be opportunities to distract them from misbehavior and redirect their attention to positive pursuits. It even works on grownups. I often find that my own attention can be distracted from a bad mood and redirected to positive behaviors, as long as I catch myself in time. For me, doing an energetic chore is great when I want to get over anger, anxiety, or excitement; while picking something small and achievable helps me get past the doldrums (even if all I do is sew a hem or pay one bill, or read one page). What are some ways you can use your distraction and redirection powers for good?

Engaged parents, happy babies

Engaged parents, happy babies