We know children learn by watching what we do every day. I remember some funny stories of when my children imitated my not-so-wonderful moments, like yelling at the slow truck in front of us at the stop light (oops). However, we actually are able to turn their imitation of our behaviors into moments of positive learning and skill building!
I often describe how to do this when I work with parents in my practice, and I call it Overt Modeling or Purposeful Modeling. This technique helps to teach any kind of skill to children of any age. I briefly mentioned this technique in my last post about Calming but thought that giving it more description could be helpful.
- What does it look like? It is acting, over describing, and using open self-talk so our children can hear. It is picking one event a day (or more) and openly talking about how you as the adult are thinking through the situation so children can hear you use all the skills you hope for them to use in a similar situation.
- When can you use it? Overt Modeling can be used anytime when you would like children to learn how to use a skill you’d like them to learn.
- Calming: You might talk through taking breaths, stretching or taking a break and how it makes your body and mind feel calmer and helps you solve a problem.
- Social skills: You might talk through looking at the face and body of another person to know how they feel. You might say that you greeted someone you were nervous to talk to by saying, “Hello.”
- Problem-solving: You might talk through all the ideas you came up with to solve a problem and how you settled on one of them because it would be the best for everyone.
- Organizing: You might talk about how you were glad you packed everything for your day the night before because it helped everyone get going on time.
- Making mistakes: You might talk about mistakes you made and how you worked to fix them, how they ended up not mattering or how the mistake actually was better than the original plan.
- An example of talking about something from your day: If a child feels everything that happens to them is because someone else wanted to hurt or tease them (but you know that is not true), then an Overt Modeling situation may sound like this:
“I was walking down the hall today at work and Jim turned and bumped into me making my coffee spill all over the floor! He didn’t even offer to help, just ran by me! It really made me mad. BUT I knew had to think through this. I asked myself, did Jim mean to do this to me? No, it was an accident. I think he actually was trying to quickly get to a meeting. I knew this because he ran down the hall to the meeting room and entered quickly. I am so glad I thought about if Jim really meant to spill my coffee. It saved me from getting really angry.”
- Another example of talking about something in the moment: You can use situations in the moment too. If you are trying to help build your child’s comfort with making mistakes, make one and then talk through how it doesn’t matter or how the outcome is actually better than it might have been without the mistake.
“Oh Goodness! I forgot the chocolate chips for the cookies! I know we really wanted those cookies today. I know that was a mistake, but I wonder if there is another idea we can come up with that will make really yummy cookies. I know, we have cinnamon and sugar! Let’s sprinkle it on each cookie instead. That will be yummy too! This mistake actually ended up good – a new yummy cookie recipe!”
Overt Modeling is one of my favorite techniques to talk about with families because they can work in moments to learn skills all through the day. The end results are positive: children learn these new skills and families build stronger relationships because they are talking and learning together. Then instead of saying, “My kid said what?!” we can say, “Ah, my kid said what we have been working on!”