Introducing Kids to Positive Role Models
Child development happens partly as traits emerge from within, but another big part comes with children learning from the adults in their lives. Role models convey values, acceptable types of interaction and behavior, and ways of living in the world to kids. Providing good role models for your kids is a key part in supporting their positive development.
How do you find role models for your child? You can be a good role model yourself, of course, but children benefit from the presence of additional adults they can look up to and seek advice from. Here are some resources for giving your kids positive role models.
When you’re not yet sure what your kids’ interests are, start with well-known contemporary or historical figures to see who catches their attention. There are plenty of well-known men, both historical and in contemporary culture, for boys to look up to.
And when it comes to raising daughters, there are lots of positive role models we can point to both in present times and from history. Check out this curated video playlist of powerful women in history to share with your older kids.
For younger kids, even Matel has created dolls based on historic women. It really helps your cause to point to people who actually lived: their lives, their challenges, their triumphs, and their struggles. It might just be inspiring, and at the very least, it will be educational.
As your children express interest in particular well-known people, you can start looking around in your own community for in-person role models, too.
Ask your kids what traits they admire in those famous figures and think about people in your life who embody those qualities. You can look for role models who have the types of careers your kids are curious about, but better than that, find people who display desirable traits like compassion, integrity, and motivation. Younger kids learn what kind of people they can be from their role models. When they’re older, it’s more suitable to help them connect with people in professions they may want to pursue.
Who do you know at your children’s school, at your workplace, at church, in your own social network, or in your family who might want to form a relationship with your kids? Think about who you admire; chances are the same qualities will make that individual a good role model for your kids.
Fictional Figures or Celebrities
Though there are some limits to fictional role models, your kids may at some point idolize a fictional figure, so better to prepare for it and send good options their way. Discuss with them what they like about their favorite characters and how they see themselves being similar or different.
When choosing media to watch with your sons, consider these shows with strong male role models. Trying to find books for your daughters that aren’t just about princesses or romance? Here is a helpful list sorted by age group (from preschool through teen years) of books with strong female characters.
Be prepared for your kids to come home one day wanting to be exactly like a celebrity they saw on YouTube. The most important thing in this situation is how you talk to them about these role models. Rather than discouraging them from their infatuation, ask them what they like about their new favorite person. Keep the conversation going by asking your kids what that celebrity is up to over time (and give yourself more opportunities to discuss poor decisions said person might make).
You are the first and most potentially powerful role model for your kids. Your children are watching and learning from you before they can even speak—and your actions will convey more than your words. You can’t do everything perfectly, but there’s a lot you can do to show them what kind of person you hope they’ll become by being that person yourself. For instance, one tip is to take good care of yourself, which will help you better care for your kids while demonstrating the value of self-care.
General advice is great, but sometimes it’s hard to figure out how to convey positive traits in day-to-day life. For instance, how do you teach your kids about healthy eating without simply telling them what to do? Try to include them in the food shopping and give them choices about what they want to eat.
Once you start exploring, you can find positive role models for your kids in all kinds of social circles and fields. A good mix of people—historical figures, community members, and fictional characters—gives your kids plenty of opportunities to identify different facets of being human they want to emulate and can provide you with ample material for discussion.
by Hilary Thompson