Set a Good example for your Children

Children learn from the example set by their parents whether it is good or not. Even the examples of abandonment and neglect set by a parent’s absence can have profound effects on the development of a child.  As any kindergarten teacher can attest, young children pick up on far more than many parents realize. Young children can and do parrot to each other the exact phrases spoken by members of their family, complete with tone of voice and body language. While they may not understand what they are mimicking, children absorb most of what goes on around them, which is why it is so important to set a good example.

Children are born preprogrammed, so to speak, to mimic the social, verbal, and other behaviors they observe in those around them. If you smile at an infant, they smile back. If you rant and rave and lose your temper at every frustration the day dishes out around your toddler, they will do the same. This innate talent at mimicry is not play. It is, in reality, a crucial mechanism by which youngsters learn how to interact with the culture into which they were born. 

Setting a good example is far more important than setting rules. By demonstrating healthy emotions, interactions, moral values, parents help their children gain the tools they need to become emotionally healthy adults. Now, that is not to say that providing a positive example of behavior will eliminate tantrums or bad days, but setting a good example is critical in teaching your child these valuable life lessons.


Honesty may be the best policy, but many people find it much harder to live with than is convenient. To instill a sense of honesty in your child, you must be scrupulously honest in your dealings with them and the rest of the world. They will not believe what you say about the importance of honesty when they hear you talking about cheating on your taxes. If, on the other hand, they observe parents being honest even when it is inconvenient or expensive, those children will respond by trying to live up to that same high standard.


Close on the heels of honesty, integrity means having strong moral values and principles. Integrity is the difference between being honest because you might get caught and being honest because it is the right thing to do. By setting an example of having integrity, you provide your children with a lifetime of self confidence, respect, and admiration.

Self Control

By demonstrating self control to your children in day-to-day life, parents help their children learn that it is normal to feel certain desires or emotions and that, at the same time, it is not always acceptable, or even safe, to act on those impulses. Self control may be seen in declining a slice of cake when you are trying to lose weight. Self control may be demonstrated when you acknowledge frustration at a situation yet remain rational and courteous. Self control is a learned characteristic that separates the successful from the greedy, the passionate from the violent. Teaching your child self control with your daily example provides them with valuable tools that they will need later in life to help them control themselves, thereby avoiding external controls, such as jail.

Delayed Gratification

Nothing identifies emotional maturity better than the ability to exercise delayed gratification. One popular kindergarten readiness test, Walter Mischel’s Marshmallow Test (, offered preschool aged children a choice between one marshmallow, right away, or two, if they could wait 15 minutes. The results of this study have been profound and far reaching. Children who demonstrated delayed gratification were found, as high school students and adults to possess higher SAT scores, superior social and cognitive skills, and were less likely to succumb to drug or alcohol abuse. Walter Mitchell’s research has been used to prove the importance of parents setting good examples in delayed gratification and in deliberately creating opportunities to learn this life changing skill.

The Value of Reading & Learning

Educators and child develop specialists have long known the value of reading aloud to children. When parents read aloud to their children, they are demonstrating that they place value on reading, which increases the likelihood that the child will learn to read. It also shows the child that they are valuable, that they are worth the time and the effort. The act of reading aloud to a child provides a multitude of benefits. Simply holding the child on one’s lap and reading aloud provides socioemotional benefits of self worth and feeling safe and loved. Reading aloud also provides linguistic tools that make learning grammar, sentence structure, and vocabulary more successful. Even reading silently to oneself, a parent is demonstrating the value of reading and learning to their child. Parental involvement in school subjects works in much the same way by demonstrating to the child that their schoolwork is valuable.


Setting an example of compassion for your child occurs in your every interaction. When faced with challenges, do you demonstrate kindness or cruelty? Do you display tolerance or prejudice toward others? Do you show warmth and affection or cold indifference when your child is having a bad day? Setting an example of compassion helps the child learn to be generous and sympathetic toward those who are less fortunate. A lack of compassion can be seen in acts of cruelty and a plethora of difficulties in adulthood. Compassion can be taught by your example when you donate to charity, take in a homeless pet, comfort a distraught friend, or help your child through a difficulty with patience and love.

Healthy Lifestyle Choices

Leading by example is the surest way to get your child to eat healthier foods and to get the exercise they need. If you tell your child to clean their plate when it is filled with greasy, overly processed, nutrient poor foods, you are robbing their bodies and their futures of good health. When you snack on carrots or an apple instead of Twinkies and Ding-Dongs, your child will be far more likely to adopt those behaviors. Yes, they will still want cookies and cake, but they will ingest a subconscious understanding that those foods are treats, whereas the carrots and apples are normal snacks. In the same way, if you are a couch potato, your child will learn to be the same thing. In this day of childhood obesity and diabetes, setting the example of a poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle can burden your child with a short, unhealthy existence. On the other hand, if you set a good example with regular exercise, family walks and hikes, playing catch on the lawn, you are imbuing your child with a love of physical play and activity that can help lead to a long and healthy life.

No matter what you do, you will set an example for your children. To provide your children with the self control, self respect, good habits, and compassion they need to grow into healthy, productive, happy adults is to fulfill the responsibility you accepted when you brought your child into this world.