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  • Writer's pictureBarbara Mayfield, MS, RDN, LD, FAND

Who is watching you?

Updated: Dec 7, 2022

A mother and father are teaching their young son and daughter how to mix ingredients ients

Have you ever considered how much of what you know you learned by observing others? Children imitate their parents. Students emulate their teachers. All of us look up to those we admire and strive to become more like them. Everyone has role models. Over the course of a lifetime most everyone IS a role model. Who is watching you?

Throughout my career I have worked extensively with parents to help them become more competent and confident in feeding their children. I believe one of the most important messages we can convey to parents is this: parents are role models. Children are watching. Children are imitating. Children grow up to be very much like their parents.

Have you ever caught yourself thinking – that’s just what my mother used to say, or, that’s what my father used to do? Have you ever heard something you’ve said repeated by your child, even nailing your tone of voice? Uh-oh!

Parents need to role model the behaviors they desire in their children. Beliefs and behaviors are “caught” more often than they are taught:

  • Parents who want their children to eat healthfully must role model eating and enjoying a wide variety of foods.

  • Parents who want their children to be physically active must role model being active, not as drudgery but for pleasure.

  • Parents who want their children to respect and appreciate their bodies, must use positive body talk about their own bodies and avoid words of body hatred or body shaming.

What food beliefs and behaviors did you learn from your parents that you are passing on to the next generation? If some of these are detrimental, can you break the cycle and replace negative beliefs and behaviors with positive ones to leave a better legacy?

A common heritage many of us share is membership in the “Clean Plate Club.” Although it may reduce food waste, we know now that it has other negative consequences.

Perfection is not the goal – we all make mistakes – and when we do we can be a role model by how we handle ourselves when we mess up.

One of the best places to practice positive role modeling is at the family table. Parents can role model good manners and meaningful conversation as well as good eating habits. Parents can demonstrate that they value spending time with the people who are most important to them. That is a powerful message that reassures children they are loved and cherished.

What are other areas of our lives in which role models play an important part in shaping who we are? Schools, businesses, communities and neighborhoods, places of worship, everywhere!

  • Are you a teacher, a supervisor, or a boss? Who looks up to you for guidance and direction?

  • Do you serve the public in a work or volunteer capacity in which you can demonstrate respect for others?

  • How do you convey yourself online? Do you positively influence others?

Positive behaviors can be contagious to those we come in contact with. Let’s commit to becoming positive role models in all areas of our lives. Others are watching. Be a positive influence – and pass it on.

“Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.”

James Baldwin

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