Modeling Behavior: Minding Manners


Modeling Behavior- Minding Manners copy 2Modeling, also known as observational learning, is a social learning theory. It describes the process of how desired behavior is taught by example. Modeling sometimes occurs intentionally, and other times happens incidentally. As children develop, they are constantly watching and absorbing the behavior of others. Children learn from the examples in their lives. They notice and may copy what adults say and do as part of their modeling process. Well Baby Center Clinical Supervisor of Group Programs, Rebekka Helford, MA, LMFT, challenges us to be mindful of what we are modeling to our children.

“He gave you a cookie – say thank you!”

“You want some? What’s the magic word? Say please. I didn’t hear you!”

Wrangling manners is a familiar subject to many the parent of a toddler. It fits in well with our notions of needing to civilize the savage beast of the under-5 set. And believe me, as a parent educator and parent of a toddler myself, I’m all in favor of helping to introduce children to the social norms and expectations of the wider world.

I often hear things like, “Should I try and force/nudge/remind/require my child to say please/thank you/sorry?” or “My parent/brother/nanny/friend always tries to get my child to say please/thank you, and my kid just doesn’t get it. Honestly, the whole thing makes me a bit uncomfortable.” Sometimes parents or other caregivers seem really upset that their toddlers are not “being nice” or “being polite” and devote a lot of energy to exacting compliance on this issue.

I understand the motivation. Many of us were raised by parents who expected respect due to their being elders, as this was the de facto expectation of them. Indeed, many elders are worthy of our respect. But, as we too often see in this day and age, many, sadly, are not.

So, in response to these questions and stories – our collective hand-wringing about whether our whiny, grabby, ungrateful little savages will ever play nice and learn the rules – I pose my own in return.

* Are we polite to our children?

* Do we show them respect?

* Do we, in essence, treat them like human beings?

Let me break these points down.

By being polite to our children, I am wondering if we model (and really mean!) use of cue words like please and thank you during exchanges. Do we say we are sorry (and really mean it) if our actions cause our child pain or discomfort (even as we set a boundary they may not like)?

By showing respect to our children, I am wondering if we make space for their autonomy (again, while still setting appropriate parental boundaries), if we respect their bodies and personal space as we would with any other person. Do we give notice (not a warning, as this implies something bad) before acting on their bodies, or do we snatch them up suddenly from behind or yank things out of their hands? Do we respect their boundaries and need for distance, or do we steal hugs and kisses from unwilling subjects?

By treating them like human beings, I most assuredly do not mean treating them like adults. Rather, I mean that we respect, honor, and make space for whatever feelings they have, however big, and still set appropriate parental limits with a gentle, yet firm, touch. Do we acknowledge and express genuine curiosity about their budding selfhood – their minds, preferences, opinions, and ideas – even as they change before our eyes, without judgment or shame?

Take a moment to consider these questions.

Children learn in many ways, among the most important of which is learning by modeling, done in sensitive, attuned relationships.

If we are polite, are respectful, and treat our children – and others – like human beings, our children will too.

If we do not, our children may learn to say “please,” “thank you,” and “sorry” at all the right times, but they may never mean it.



Rebekka Helford

Rebekka Helford is a parent, educator, and a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, with over a decade of experience in clinical practice. She is a Mindful Parenting Group leader and facilitator at the Well Baby Center. You can join a mindful parenting group led by her to learn how to enrich your parent-child relationship.                                                           Read more by Rebekka at her blogLiving in Captivity.


Posted in Behavioral Problems, Child's Phases, Connection, Discipline, Early Intervention, Loving Discipline, Manners, Mindful Parenting, Modeling, Parent-child relationship, Parenting, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Parenting Mindfully & Attachment Parenting

Parenting Mindfully & Attachment Parenting
by Deborah Groening

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We can help our children feel validated and strong by not solving their problems for them but rather by bearing their struggles with them.

Attachment theory and research and Dr. Sear’s “Attachment Parenting,” are two completely different constructs. Attachment Parenting encourages baby wearing, co-sleeping, breast-feeding on demand, and self-weaning — which is all well and fine — but it isn’t related to attachment theory. Attachment theory, on the other hand, is research conducted by developmental psychologists. It defines the different attachment styles a child may exhibit toward her attachment figure – secure, anxious/ambivalent, dismissive/preoccupied, and disorganized. Attachment Parenting, on the other hand, is not research-based — it is a way of parenting that may encourage a secure attachment in the child because many of the principles are conducing to this. However, the topic of this discussion is about how that it can go too far – we can be too fearful of our child’s momentary unhappiness and do them a great disservice. Let me explain further…

Attachment theory posits that it is just as important for a parent to be able to tolerate their child’s struggles to gain mastery as it is to provide a comforting connection during times of stress. Struggle is necessary to encourage resiliency and flexibility in your child. It is crucial for your child to be able to see that things can sometimes be frustrating, but that they will be set right again. Without this experience, the capacity for self-regulation, through rupture and repair, will be hampered. Rupture and repair is when you and your child just don’t see eye to eye and a rupture occurs. When the child has recovered, he will return to a happy state and will discover that mom hasn’t stayed mad at him. In the attachment theory world, there is a saying, that “whenever you can, follow your child’s lead, but when necessary, be bigger, wiser, and stronger.” Take the lead and don’t feel badly about it! It requires flexible thinking and feeling on your feet and mindful responding. You are teaching an important lesson – that people have different minds that therefore have different thoughts, desires, wants and needs. This is what “theory of mind” is and to little ones, it is a new concept.

To parent mindfully requires an inner awareness and self-compassion. We must try to give our children the idea that they are loved both when they are needy and clingy and also when they push us away in their striving for autonomy and independence. They also need to understand that if they suddenly haul off and hit mommy she will react with appropriate anger!

The desire for safety and security and the desire to be independent are two equal aspects of a child’s development and both are necessary to develop a secure attachment relationship to their parent. The parent must encourage and scaffold, but should not help their child to the degree that the child does not experience the exhilaration of first struggling to achieve a new skill and then with great effort achieving their goal.

Our children are different from us, with their own unique needs and wants, personalities and temperaments. Whether we have made meaning out of our lifelong disappointments and struggles will profoundly relate to how we parent. In doing our own inner work we can make space in our minds in order to be curious about our children’s inner world and what they are needing from us. We can help them feel validated and strong by not solving their problems for them but rather by bearing their struggle with them. This is the true definition of mindful parenting. Our hardest job in the world is being able to digest, think about, and bear witness to their sometimes-intense rages without collapsing under the sheer weight of it. Parenting mindfully — regardless of whether you had a Caesarian or a home birth, whether you breast or bottlefed, or whether you co-slept or sleep trained, is the key factor.

By using reflective parenting in daily life with your child and partner, and by practicing loving kindness with yourself, you will have the key to family bliss and your child’s attachment security.

For further tips and ideas about how to address your child’s feelings visit

annabellesmallDeborah Groening is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Psy.D. Candidate and Certified Infant-Mental Health Specialist. She is also the Clinic Director of Well Baby Center.

Posted in Attachment, Behavioral Problems, Child Centered Activity, Child's Phases, Connection, Discipline, Early Intervention, Let It Go, Loving Discipline, Mindful Parenting, Parent-child relationship, Parenting, Self-Compassion, setting limits, Value of Emotions | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment