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Information for Parents: Listening and Teaching

Being a Role Model

​​​​​​There’s no such thing as being a perfect parent. Being a parent is a very hard job. It is a special joy to raise a child, but it can be demanding, challenging, and exhausting—and there’s no time off. Every parent has good days and bad days. But every day you act as a role model for your child. From the time your child is a baby he or she is watching and learning from you. Your child learns from what you do and what you say. Your child thinks the same way as you do and copies your expressions. Before your child goes to school, he or she has probably learned more from you than you ever intended.

Is this something to worry about?

Your child will grow up and have to make grown-up choices. If you show restraint when it comes to alcohol, drugs (e.g., prescription medicine), and gambling, then chances are your child will follow your example. If you control your temper and are considerate to others, your child will be likely copy that behaviour.

Are other people role models for my child?

Grandparents, aunts, uncles, or friends that spend time with your child are role models. A teacher, coach, or neighbour can also be a role model. The more positive examples your child has to learn from, the better.

Having one adult who cares can make a big difference. Even when life is hard or there is conflict, if one person cares and supports a child, it can make a big difference. If there is someone to stand by your child (no matter what), he or she will be able to overcome hard times.

Anyone can be a role model, but parents or main caregivers have the most influence on a child. Even when your child is a teen and doesn’t seem interested in you, he or she is watching you as a role model.

How can I be a good role model?

Think about how your behaviour affects your child. It is not likely that you can always be calm and cheerful—no one is. A child needs to see parents express real feelings in a healthy way. If your child sees you dealing with anger appropriately, he or she will learn from you. If your child watches you celebrate special occasions without alcohol, he or she will learn something. If your child sees you facing hard times without trying to escape (with alcohol, drugs, or gambling), he or she will remember. As your child grows up, he or she learns by your example. Your child will follow your example when coping with challenges.

What if I make mistakes that I don’t want my child to copy?

If there are problems in your family, even a young child can be affected. Often, a child believes:
  • he or she caused the problem
  • family conflict is worse because of something he or she did wrong

You can help by talking to your child. Even a young child can understand a sincere apology. It’s possible to be honest with your child and not burden him or her with adult problems. You can say you are sorry and explain that you make mistakes too, but you are trying to change. Tell your child that you love him or her and that problems are not his or her fault.

How can I teach my child about other positive role models?

Talk to your child about things that happened to you when you were his or her age. Tell your child about someone who made a difference in your life and why. This could be someone who is part of your child’s life or someone your child might not know.

Tell your child about a family member or friend who showed courage, kindness, humour, or was really determined. Talk about who you think of as role models now that you’re an adult. Who do you admire and why? This will help your child understand that different people behave in different ways. Your child might start to think about who makes a good role model.

It’s not easy being a role model. But since every parent or caregiver is a role model, it’s a good thing to think about.



It’s always interesting to see ourselves through other people’s eyes. Playing parts can be fun for you and your child and it gives you both a chance to learn. Remember to include as many of your child’s good qualities as you can when you play the child role.

Through this type of role-playing, you and your child can explore ways to deal with anger and being disappointed.

  1. Think back to a time when you were mad (e.g., a conflict with an adult, a fight with your children). Ask your child to act out a scene pretending to be you. Watch and listen carefully to your child’s version of what happened. It could be enlightening. Talk about how you could handle something like this better if it happens again.
  2. Think of a made-up situation (e.g., bad weather means your child can’t go to the park as promised) and ask your child to role-play how he or she would react.

    Use this same made-up situation and ask your child how someone the same age or younger would act. A younger child might have a tantrum. A child the same age is old enough to know the weather isn’t your fault and would act more mature.

  3. Let your child make up a situation for you to role-play. Your child could ask you to play an adult or a child’s role. You might play yourself when you can’t find your keys and are late for work. You could play the child’s role when it’s time for bed and you want to watch one more TV show. This play-acting can be fun for both of you. After you role-play, talk about different ways to deal with hard times.

Learning from others

  1. Talk with your child about different ways to deal with celebrations, anger, and being disappointed. Talk about how someone you both look up to would deal with a situation and how someone who is immature would deal with it.
  2. Look at sports figures or performers and watch how they behave. Talk with your child about what makes a good winner, a good loser, a poor winner, and a poor loser.
  3. When you see people you don’t know in public that are kind and considerate, talk about this with your child. When you see people behaving in ways that are not appropriate, talk about this too. Talk about different behaviours with your child and encourage him or her to compliment people when they show good behaviour.

For More Information

Everyone has different needs. If you want to prevent your child from using alcohol, tobacco, drugs, or you want to help your child deal with a drug problem, there is help. Alberta Health Services has services to help you, your child, and your family that includes:
  • information and prevention programs
  • group and family counseling
  • outpatient and residential treatment
  • Protection of Children Abusing Drugs Program

For more information or to find an addiction services office near you, please call 811.

Current as of: January 6, 2017

Author: Addiction & Mental Health, Alberta Health Services