Role Models: Raising a Mini-Me

“The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”

“You’re a chip off the old block.”

Our kids can be like us in so many ways, from their physical resemblance to how they carry themselves. Although genetics has a hand in how similar they are to us, the majority of how our kids develop comes from what they observe and experience. It’s fun to have a mini-version of ourselves running around, but it’s important that we allow them to find their individuality and embrace who they are. How do we do that, especially when we are their main models?

Model Behavior

Genetics play a role when it comes to similarities between kids and their parents. For instance, my mom was a wonderful piano player. She has long fingers that allow her to reach the faraway notes while playing Beethoven. I inherited that physical trait, giving me the dexterity to do the same. Research has also found that genes can also influence personality traits such as anxiety, shame and curiosity; making our kid’s temperament much like our own.

However, that’s where genetics end. The rest is through what our children observe from the people around them and from their environment. Within the first three years of life, the brain has completed 80% of its growth with personal experiences having a direct impact on its development.

In fact, a 2015 study reveals that the personality traits regarding extroversion, agreeableness, and conscientiousness had little to no genetic correlation. This means that children learn social skills, kindness, and work ethic primarily from their parents.

Your child might say “Hi” to everyone at the grocery store while strolling through the aisles or grab a pillow and scream into it when stressed; most likely because they’ve watched you (or your spouse) do it. Kids are absorbent sponges, taking in everything from their surroundings and keeping tabs on how others respond to certain tasks and situations. Without trying, every word and action in front of your child is a lesson on how to be.

Just Like You

“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”

Our kids emulate everything we do, from physical gestures to how we talk. Why? Because their emotional bond with us also serves (subconsciously) as a need for survival. In Good Inside, Dr. Becky Kennedy discusses attachment theory and how it shapes our child’s relationship with us and with themselves.

Attachment theory, coined by the British psychologist John Bowlby, suggests that babies are hardwired to “attach” to caregivers. Children who figured out how to keep an attachment figure nearby were more likely to receive comfort and protection; ergo, a higher chance of survival. How a parent responds to cries of need can impact a child’s internal thought patterns (like their beliefs, memories, expectations, emotions, etc). They collect this data and adapt themselves accordingly to maximize attachment and keep their parents close. As a result, a child will figure out what parts of themselves are considered “good” based on how much connection, attention, understanding, and acceptance they gain from their parents. The parts or actions that don’t gain this attachment (what they may deem as unlovable), they will hide.

When parents give praise to only their shared interests or talents, a certain appearance, or demeanor, their kid may forgo their own true passions and identity to gain that parent’s acceptance and love. For example, the child who loves to paint and sketch may abandon it to play a competitive sport or an outspoken kiddo learns to keep their thoughts and emotions to themselves in order to gain favor with mom/dad. The result? A child that’s just like their parents, but not who they truly are.

We touched last week on how our own upbringing can have a negative trickle-down effect on our own parenting (defaulting). So let’s keep it positive and stop that flow in order to bring out the best in our kids and their future development.

Go Your Own Way

As our kid’s world expands, their behavior and mannerisms will start to replicate others around them (like teachers, coaches, friends, peers, acquaintances). This is especially true in the teen years. As they deviate from being our mini-me to their own person, it’s important to have quality time together, tap into their own interests and passions, and celebrate them for being who they are and what they will become.

To set the foundation for this stage, we ourselves need to be good role models; instilling morals and values from the beginning. By practicing positive traits regularly (like being kind to others, taking care of yourself, trying new things, setting boundaries, etc), you’re building your child’s neural pathways as they observe and eventually practice in their environment.

While it’s great to share common interests and hobbies with our kids, we also need to recognize if we’re rubbing off a bit too much and allow for some experiences to be child-led.

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Power, R. A., & Pluess, M. (2015). Heritability estimates of the Big Five personality traits based on common genetic variants. Translational Psychiatry5(7), e604–e604.
Kennedy, B. (2022). GOOD INSIDE : A guide to becoming the parent you want to be. Harperwave.

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