Your child learns by taking in the world around him and then imitating what he absorbs. He is more likely to copy your behavior, attitudes, and values than to listen to your instruction. Because your child is like a sponge, absorbing and learning from your gestures and actions, the truth of who you are is reflected back to you as he starts expressing himself. The reflection you see is an incredible opportunity for your own personal growth.
Your emotional regulation creates the emotional climate for your child. As in all areas of his life, you are his main role model. Your child absorbs the positive and the negative emotions in his environment, and they affect him, even if they are not directed toward him. He also associates emotions with experiences.
For example, if you enthusiastically make cookies together as a fun activity, he will feel the excitement and associate that feeling with making cookies. However, if you feel pressured and hurried while making cookies, he may be apprehensive the next time you start baking. When you manage your own emotions in a way that meets your values and goals, you help your child balance his emotions in the same way.
Positive modeling is far more effective in teaching your child how to regulate his emotions than explanation, criticism, or punishment. I have provided a poem that I first discovered in the office of one of my college professors in 1972. It illustrates how the actions of adults affect children. Even though I have read the poem many times, I appreciate revisiting these laws of cause and effect as I reflect on my children and on my own upbringing.
Children Learn What They Live
By Dorothy Law Nolte, PhD
If children live with criticism, they learn to condemn.
If children live with hostility, they learn to fight.
If children live with fear, they learn to be apprehensive.
If children live with pity, they learn to feel sorry for themselves.
If children live with ridicule, they learn to feel shy.
If children live with jealousy, they learn to feel envy.
If children live with shame, they learn to feel guilty.
If children live with encouragement, they learn confidence.
If children live with tolerance, they learn patience.
If children live with praise, they learn appreciation.
If children live with acceptance, they learn to love.
If children live with approval, they learn to like themselves.
If children live with recognition, they learn it is good to have a goal.
If children live with sharing, they learn generosity.
If children live with honesty, they learn truthfulness.
If children live with fairness, they learn justice.
If children live with kindness and consideration, they learn respect.
If children live with security, they learn to have faith in themselves and in those about them.
If children live with friendliness, they learn the world is a nice place in which to live.
Copyright © 1998 by Dorothy Law Nolte and Rachel Harris
The poem ”Children Learn What They Live“
Copyright © 1972 by Dorothy Law Nolte
Used by permission of Workman Publishing Co., Inc., New York
All Rights Reserved