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What Is a Role Model and Why Do We Need Them?

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A father and his son

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Summary: What does it take to be a role model? Why are they so essential to a child's development? Here's why role models play a crucial role in childhood.

Do you want to be a good role model?

The vast majority of us do—especially parents. After all, parents are the first role models a child ever has, and their actions shape their children’s behavior. 

The challenge is: It’s stressful to provide good examples all the time. 

When we were kids, we assumed our role models were perfect. But the reality is, everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses. The same goes for our models. 

We need to redefine the meaning of role models and their importance to children. Children need to know what makes a good role model so they can recognize them when they see them. 

What Is the Role Model Definition?

A role model is a fictional or real person whose behaviors and qualities are admired by others. Anyone can be one—a parent, friend, spouse, co-worker…literally anyone. 

Another word for a role model is “mentor.” Sometimes, role models are referred to as idols or heroes. They provide excellent examples of “what to do” and “what not to do.”

Are role models perfect? Not at all.

Idols are human beings who excel. But they don’t excel at everything. They are human beings, which means they have faults.

Why Is a Role Model Important?

Role models inspire us to become better people. 

Some models we follow consciously. Others act as examples in our lives on a more subconscious level. The most common subconscious level of modeling is children who look up to their parents as heroes.

Albert Bandura, a social cognitive psychologist, explains,Role models help children to learn behaviors as opposed to learning from the consequences of their behaviors.”

Most of the time, children learn from how their parents act, not what their parents tell them. Children internalize their parent’s actions, thinking, This is how it’s done. If they do it, that means I can.”

That’s why parents need to explain that they’re not perfect and point out which behaviors to follow and which to avoid. This way, the child understands that human beings are not perfect and that it’s okay to show vulnerabilities to others, which is a critical life lesson.

Mentors are essential for a child’s development, and parents are often the first examples their children follow.

The biggest question is: What makes a parent a role model? 

What Does It Mean to Be a Role Model?

Be the person you want your child to become. 

Do you want your child to be kind? Be kind.

Do you want your child to be patient? Be patient.

Do you want your child to be respectful? Be respectful.

Decide what qualities you want to develop in your child, then embody those qualities to the best of your ability.

Showing is always better than telling. Actions speak louder than words.

Dr. Shefali Tsabary, trainer of Mindvalley’s Conscious Parenting Mastery Quest, explains:

All we need to do is model. When our children realize we are perfectly okay with our okayness, it encourages a feeling of competence within them.

Your level of health and fitness is what health and fitness mean to your child. Your job success is how they will view success in their future careers. They look to your personal relationships to model their own social interactions. 

Everything you say, everything you do, and everything you are are watched and absorbed by your children.

So, what example do you set for them? 

A mother and her children in a garden

Who Are Some Good Role Models?

These extraordinary people are chosen based on their strongest attributes. You don’t have to choose just one; you can have multiple models to help you embody different attributes.

Role ModelQualities
Mahatma GandhiHonesty, service, forgiveness, non-violence.
Leonardo da VinciCuriosity, creativity. 
Mother TeresaServant leadership, love, selflessness.
Martin Luther KingSelf-confidence, determination, leadership, passion.
Michelle ObamaRespect, honesty, communication, motivation.
Emma WatsonSelf-love, humility, integrity, courage. 

Why do role models matter?

Role models are crucial for a child’s development. 

Instinctively, they’ll follow who they look up to within their proximity. And parents are often the first examples they encounter. 

Your behaviors and actions give specific messages to your child. And you want to convey the right messages that empower their growth.

So, why not become the best hero in your child’s eyes and show your child the way?

Images generated on Midjourney.

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