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Do Children Need Role Models?

I want to be like Superman. He fights bad guys!

The gamer I watch on Youtube didn’t graduate and he’s still doing awesome and making more money than some college graduates. So, why should I study more of what I’m not good at and neglect what I am good at?

My dad studied very hard so he could get a good job and earn lots of money and buy this huge house we live in.

If the values of our society could be represented through the image of the role models our children choose, what do you think they would be?

Merriam-Webster defines a role model as “a person whose behavior in a particular role is imitated by others.”

Some consider role modeling a driving force in learning in that we emulate an example we perceive as desirable. Now, even if we don’t agree that role modeling is the most powerful way to learn, it’s nevertheless the way our children learn. So, we need to be concerned with how they learn, or rather, from whom they’re learning.

The market of potential role models consists of every single character that your child has ever seen – real or fictional, young or old, male or female, living or historical… Every. Single. One.

Who they choose as their role models depends on various factors.

How do we choose our role models?

Let’s play a game! We’ll try to read your thoughts.
Please follow our instructions:

  1. Think about somebody you admire. Somebody who inspires you.
  2. Now that you have that person in your mind – What is this person doing that you find so inspirational? How does this person behave?

Our guess is that the answer to #2 reflects:

  1. How you already act
  2. How you currently aspire to act
  3. How you wish you could act one day

Are we right?

Our role models are our psychological support in the challenges we face throughout life. They help us distinguish good from bad, right from wrong. We choose them for a specific purpose – to give us support and guidance when we need them. We choose them to stand by our side when we’re fighting for a goal, when we feel discouraged, when we’re uncertain about what to do next. We choose them because they appeal to us, because they represent a desirable image we should strive to attain one day.

Why do you think our children’s reasons might be different?

What kind of role models do our children choose?

Children choose their role models according to what they find appealing, That, of course, depends on their needs, preferences, challenges, aspirations…
If you don’t know what kind of role models your child chooses, ask them. They’ll tell you. However, be careful not to judge the book by its cover. The same role models might be chosen for different reasons. Some might opt for Superman because of his strength, some because he can live a double life without anyone knowing who he really is.

role model for kids infographics

 

How can we help our children choose the right role models?

Step 1: Find out who they look up to

Ask:
Who’s your hero?
Who do you look up to?
Who inspires you?
Who do you want to be like when you grow up?

Step 2: Understand the similarities between your child and their role model

Ask:
What do you have in common with this character?
How are you two similar?

Step 3: Understand the differences between your child and their role model

Ask:
How are you different from this character?
Is there something this character can do that you’d like to do, but can’t?
Is there something this character has, that you don’t?

Step 4: Find out what your child most values in this character

Ask:
What do you like most about this person?
If you could pick this person’s best quality, what would it be?

Step 5: Check your understanding

Share your understanding of what this character represents for your child.

(Don’t describe what this character is to you! Focus on your child’s perception.)

Example: So, when you grow up, you want to be just like Mr. Blake. He’s your favorite teacher. Both you and Mr. Blake love math and are very good at it. Everybody loves Mr. Blake because he’s the best teacher, even to those kids who hate math. What you most like about Mr. Blake is that he always wants to help you out. Right?

You can always ask more questions to get a better picture…

How do you know that everybody loves Mr. Blake?
What does Mr. Blake do to help out?

Step 6: Look for the connection

Look into the connection between the role model and your child, and the top quality that your child sees.

“Everybody loves Mr. Blake…  Even the kids that hate math.”

“He always wants to help out.”

Maybe the kids who hate math aren’t very nice to be around. Mr. Blake might be a bit of a “geek” and still be popular. If your child were more like Mr. Blake, would he fit in better?

Don’t jump to conclusions, though. Ask questions and let your child tell you whether something makes sense or not

Step 7: Role modeling

Ask:
What has Mr. Blake most helped you with?
What are you learning from Mr. Blake?
What can Mr. Blake teach you?
What skill can Mr. Blake help you with?
What do you see Mr. Blake do, that you’ve started doing?

At this point, you’ll probably be able to tell whether Mr. Blake is the “right” choice of role model for a child who, let’s suppose, doesn’t really get along with the popular kids.

Now, following on, you’ll probably want to help your child think about what Mr. Blake does or doesn’t do that helps him be so loved.

You might also be able to think of some good movies, books, stories, or other examples of people dealing with the same challenge who might help.

“You know who Mr. Blake reminds me of? Let me find that movie and I’ll show you.”

Another step you might consider is asking your child how they might respond if their role model were to mess up. That could open up a whole new discussion about how the role model is perceived, what kind of mistakes they could possibly make, and how tolerant the child might be of those mistakes.

The role models we choose are similar to training wheels on a bike, which give us the impression we know how to ride a bike even though we haven’t quite acquired the skill. They fulfill their role in teaching us that we can do something, and they encourage us to follow their lead and achieve what we deem important.

This teaching function of role models is why we should try to understand who they are. The odds are they will be one of the most influential teachers our children will have.

More about the parents’ role

Our children’s self-image is largely built on who we, the adults in their lives, think they are. They do something well, we tell them: “Oh, you’re so smart.” They stumble on a rock, we say: “You’re clumsy.” Sometimes it seems children are collecting all the adjectives we use to describe who we think they are, mentally noting our tone of voice, consequent actions, and how often we use those descriptions, into one great pool of attributes they’ll one day call their personality. While some might say: “My child was like that from day one!” others might say this or that particular feature is something you noticed as a parent first, something that you labeled (“as shy, stubborn, hyperactive”) and something you either tried reinforcing or changing.

Parents are our first role models. They give us an intuition of what is valued or not. What’s acceptable, what’s not. What’s desirable and what should be avoided. Of course, as children grow up they become more able to compare their parents to other people. (It starts with questions, usually followed by criticism. If you’re a parent of a teenager, you definitely know what we’re referring to.)

Parents are their children’s first representatives of how society operates.

At first, children imitate what’s at hand; then they imitate behaviors they believe are valued.
First, they will imitate dad cursing in front of the TV while watching football, just because they see it. Then, they’ll start doing it because it seems like the “right” way to watch a good game.

What does your child perceive as the values you are conveying through your own behavior? This is not to blame parents if a child has chosen a “wrong” role model. This is to help reflect on how we communicate values to our kids and how they are interpreting our communication.

by Ana Jovanovic
Coach at Nobel Coaching

4 SOCIAL/EMOTIONAL SKILLS YOU CAN EASILY PRACTICE WITH TEENS

Whether you are a parent or work directly with teens, here you can read about some concrete social/emotional skills and useful activities that can help teens practice them. We will cover basic information about Listening skills, Assertiveness, Emotional awareness, and Nonverbal communication.

Why practice social/emotional skills?

Whether we call them soft skills, social/emotional skills, social/emotional intelligence or growth mindset, there is a consensus among researchers and practitioners that we need certain abilities to achieve our fullest potential at school, in our professional careers, and in our private lives. These abilities help us recognize and manage our emotions, cope with obstacles and life challenges, and enhance communication skills and good interpersonal relations (including empathy).

According to an analysis of longitudinal studies in nine OECD countries published in Skills for Social Progress: The Power of Social and Emotional Skills by OECD in 2015:

“Children’s capacity to achieve goals, work effectively with others and manage emotions will be essential to meet the challenges of the 21st century.”

Besides acknowledging the importance of social/emotional skills such as perseverance, sociability, and self-esteem, the report discusses how policy-makers, schools, and families facilitate the development of social/emotional skills through intervention programs, teaching, and parenting practices.

All these abilities are interrelated and their development starts at home and continues throughout the school years. If parents and important adults show a high level of social/emotional maturity, it will be easier for kids to acquire these abilities simply by modeling their behavior.

However, it is always useful when children and teens have a chance to practice social/emotional skills under the guidance of experienced adults. The best case scenario is when programs for enhancing social/emotional skills are an integral part of an educational system and a local community’s initiatives.

Below, we will look at some important social/emotional skills and suggest simple activities for practicing them, adjusted to teens.

1. Social communication skill – Listening

Being able to hear what people are really saying is a valuable communication skill that has a major impact on the quality of our relations with others. You’ve probably already heard about Active Listening, a skill that allows us to hear not only the words people are saying but also the emotions they are reflecting through their nonverbal behavior. Both are important in understanding the whole message being communicated.

This is a complex skill that can be practiced. In the following activity, the focus is on practicing concentration; listening to the verbal message with undivided attention. You can practice this activity with a group of teens in your home, in the classroom or in a workshop.

Instruction

Firstly, ask all the participants to sit in a circle. The first person starts to tell a story (whatever he/she wants). After 3-5 sentences, say “stop” and randomly choose another participant to continue. This person now has to repeat the last sentence said and then continue making up the story. If he cannot correctly repeat the last sentence after five seconds, he is disqualified. The game continues with the same rules and the winner is the last person remaining after everybody else is disqualified.

This is the competitive version of the game. However, you can make up your own version, without disqualifications or adding new elements that you find useful.

Have a discussion

Ask participants to reflect on the game. When and how was their attention distracted? What helped them concentrate and remember the previous sentence? Check out our forthcoming online training Let’s Make a Deal – active listening is one of the objectives!

2. Social communication skill – Assertiveness

Assertiveness, as a style of communication, is characterized by the ability to directly and confidently express our genuine opinion, feelings, or attitudes, such that the rights of others and social circumstances are respected.

It is proven that assertiveness affects our self-esteem and self-confidence, so there’s no doubt that practicing assertiveness is useful for teens. It is a complex skill that can be acquired through a training program led by a trained coach/therapist. However, some aspects of assertiveness can be practiced through simple exercises at home and in a school setting.

Maybe the most important point is to assure teens that it’s okay to claim their rights and to ask, to initiate, to express their opinions and feelings. That it’s okay to say NO to other people in a respectful way.

In this exercise, the focus will be on encouraging teens to initiate a conversation in which they will ask something of others and express their opinion or feelings. It can be practiced as social challenges given to teens either by their parents or teachers.

Instruction

Firstly, a list of social challenges is created, taking into consideration a teen’s age or social needs. Challenges can be written down/printed on separate cards. If given consent to take part in the challenge, a teen takes a random card and his task is to do what is required on the card in the next 24 hours or over several days, as you jointly arrange.

Challenges can be practiced once a week or according to whatever schedule you agree upon.

Examples of social challenges:

  • Give an honest compliment to someone.
  • Learn two new things about somebody from your class.
  • Share with a friend what’s been on your mind lately.
  • Call customer service at your favorite store and ask for information about some product you like.
  • Tell your best friend what you like about him/her.
  • Ask a teacher (or a coach) for clarification of a task you didn’t understand completely.

Have a discussion

After the task is accomplished, it’s important to discuss with the teen how the particular challenge made him feel. Did he find it easy, hard, awkward, or something else? What could be alternative ways to ask, to express? How did others react?
The inspiration for this activity is taken and adjusted from the Speech Bubble SLP.

3. Emotional skill – Emotional self-awareness

We have already written about self-awareness as the basic ability to understand our own inner processes and to relate adequately with others. Emotional awareness, in this context the ability to recognize our own feelings, is the foundation of emotional intelligence.

Besides helping us be aware of our emotions, these skills are important for developing emotional intelligence, according to Daniel Goleman and his bestselling book Emotional Intelligence. Understanding why we feel a certain way and knowing how to handle these feelings, including self-motivation; the ability to recognize the feelings of others (empathy) and to motivate them – these skills are crucial to success and happiness in every aspect of our lives and in our relationships with others.

In the following activity, the focus is on getting in touch with eight emotions a teen chooses, raising awareness of how a particular emotion manifests itself, and how it affects the teen’s life. It is based on art therapy principles and is performed individually. However, it can be practiced in groups, too. You need a white paper and colored markers.

Instruction

Firstly, ask a teen to draw a circle and divide it into eight pies. Then, ask him/her to dedicate each pie to one emotion and fill in each pie with a corresponding color or images that match his/her idea of what the emotion means to him/her. It may be that a teen has a problem coming up with eight emotions. You can assist him but never choose instead of him. Don’t push if he can’t come up with eight. Work with whatever he manages to present.

Have a discussion

After the teen is done with the drawing, initiate a dialogue. You may find these questions useful: What does each image mean to you? What made you choose those particular colors? When in your life do you experience this emotion? What emotion is dominant for you nowadays? What emotion is the hardest to handle? And so on.

If a teen has a problem in coming up with emotions, you can use Plutchik’s wheel of emotion to help him recognize emotions he would like to work on.

emotions in teens

 

This exercise is taken and adjusted from the Art therapy directives BlogSpot.

4. Social/emotional skills – Understanding nonverbal communication

Good understanding of nonverbal communication is a sign of social and emotional intelligence.

The ability to observe and understand nonverbal signs during communication, or any other interaction between people, gives us tremendous information about the real message being communicated. It is especially important when we notice that the verbal message and nonverbal behavior are not harmonized. It also gives us a clue about the motives of the person we are communicating with or their emotional state.

Besides what is said, it is always important to follow HOW it is said. Basic nonverbal aspects of human behavior to be aware of include eye contact, the tone of voice, facial expression, gestures, personal distance, body language, and posture.

The following activity, based on acting and improvisation methodology, focuses on recognizing the emotional state of participants exposed to simulated social situations, through observing only their nonverbal behavior. A group is needed for this activity.

Instruction

Ask a volunteer from the group to leave the room. Separate instructions are given to him/her and to the group, who stays in the room in order to prepare for the final scene. While the volunteer is outside, each individual in the group has to choose one emotion and must express this emotion only through nonverbal behavior (acting). Remind them of the different aspects of nonverbal communication.

Meanwhile, the volunteer outside is given the task of coming up with several social situations familiar to teens such as: in class; during family dinner; on a date; at a birthday party; working on homework, etc.

Finally, when the volunteer is back to the room, he sets the scene: You’re in class (for example). All members of the group act as if they are in the classroom, including expressing their chosen emotional state nonverbally. They can use their voice but only in the form of inarticulate sounds. The volunteer observes their behavior and tries to guess how they feel. If he is confused, he can put them in another social situation (or only for fun:). The game can be repeated several times with different volunteers, emotions to guess, and social situations.

Have a discussion

After it is revealed which emotion has been presented by each member of the group, a discussion follows. You may find these questions useful: What are the main nonverbal indicators of this emotion? How did you feel while acting? Did anybody have difficulties acting in the scenes (why)? What do you usually do when you feel (this particular emotion)? What do you usually do when you recognize somebody acting like this? Was there something confusing and what? – A question to the volunteer.

Depending on available time and the goal of your group work you can go even deeper into a conversation about particular emotions. If you are interested in activities useful for teen’s emotional development, you may like this article.

If you need any kind of advice related to the social/emotional development of your teen children, you’ve come to the right place! Schedule an appointment with our coach.

by Milena Ćuk,

Assertiveness Coach and Integrative Art Therapist-in-training