The Parent Cycle: What Do You Role Model to Your Child?

Posted March 4, 2015 by

Photo of leon-scott-baxter

Now that Madison, my first-born, is fifteen, some of the rituals we shared when she was a toddler are beginning to fade in my old age. Last weekend, though, she reminded me of one. Madison was babysitting our neighbor’s three-year old, Chloe; and Chloe asked Madison to read her story after story. “After the tenth and final book,” Madison told me, “instead of saying, ‘The End’, I said, ‘The Chooka-Makah’. Chloe asked me what I had said. I really had no idea. Where did that come from?”

Madison’s question brought a long-forgotten memory back to me. During her early years, Madison would ask me to read book after book, and I would say, “The End” for each one.  But when it was the final book of the night, I would make her smile by saying “The Chooka-Makah.”

My teen had become me, at least as far as picture book-reading goes! It was a moment that made me smile. She unknowingly was carrying on a family tradition; I then knew that when she has a child of her own, she will try to make her smile, as I had with her.

As they grow, and even into adulthood, children repeat the behaviors they learn at home. When I was Madison’s age, my mom asked me to wash the dishes and then inspected my work.  I didn’t pass because there were crumbs on the counter on the other side of the kitchen. Mom then told me that wiping down the counter was part of washing the dishes. I recall vowing never to assume that my child would automatically understand that wiping all the counters was a part of washing the dishes. Yet, when I became a parent, one day I came home to find cleaned dishes by the sink and crumbs on the counter. I have no idea how the words came out of my mouth, but there I was screaming, “Who washed the dishes but left the crumbs on the counter?! Wiping the counter is part of washing the dishes!”

Our children follow our example, one way or another. This means that we need to be the person we want our children to become.  That’s a lot of responsibility.  What we do and say, our children will do and say. We create cycles.  They can be positive ones that we don’t want broken, like ending story time with a bit of silliness.  Or our behavior can create cycles that are difficult for our children to live with and to break, ones that they spend a lifetime wrestling with.  Parents, it all starts with us.

Honesty.  We want our kids to be honest. We don’t want them lying to us or their friends. No stealing or cheating. We want them to be trustworthy. But what kind of example are we setting? We can tell them to be truthful, but if they see us bringing office supplies home from work, calling in sick when we’re fine, or accepting the extra change the cashier mistakenly gave us, we can’t expect them to be more honest than we are.

Health.  If you want your kids to go out, play and exercise, you also need to be active. You want her to eat her vegetables? You need to have broccoli and carrots on your plate as well. When you and your kids engage together in a healthy lifestyle, they will continue to do so when they are on their own.

Finances.  For many of us, trying to make ends meet can be tough. We may not be getting the pay we think we deserve, but with the money we do earn, we need to model responsible use. So, show your child how you use coupons and shop sales. Allow him to see that you choose to put away a few bucks into savings instead of getting a latte or eating out. Show constraint; don’t buy on impulse. Model how you make a plan and save for big-ticket items.

Relationships.  We all hope our children will find the love of their life and live happily ever after. The truth is, though, that over half of marriages end in divorce.  And children often mirror the relationship they witnessed growing up. So, what does that mean for parents? It means we need to truly focus on our partner: hold hands, kiss, have date nights. Even if you do not have a partner, you can still model healthy relationships by treating others respectfully, setting appropriate boundaries, and using effective conflict resolution skills.

Use Your Words.  Growing up, my father would hit me. I went to preschool one day with a black eye, only to have my head hit against a wall the next day. I swore that I would never hit my own children when I became a father. Yet, when Madison was two, I smacked her leg one day when she was disobeying me. The cycle I inherited was not going to stop so easily. I realized that I was modeling aggression as a way to solve a problem, and that if I wanted something different for her, then I had to use words, not hands.  I worked on it and never struck her again.

Pursue Dreams. Most of us are not in a position to drop everything and pursue our dreams. Yet, we do want our children to go after theirs. Although we may not be able to quit our jobs and move to Hollywood, we can show our children that our other aspirations are important enough for us to follow. Want to run a 5k? Sign up, train, and go for it! Always wanted to be a writer? Start your own blog. When our children see us pursuing our dreams, it inspires them to pursue theirs.

It’s incredible how much influence our actions can have on our children’s futures. The traditions we start with our children will probably continue with their children. The routines we have in our homes today, we will see in theirs tomorrow. Cycles are very difficult to break, so why not create the best cycles you can, the kind that don’t need to be broken, the kind that no therapist will ever have to hear about? We have that power. It starts with us. It starts today.

The Chooka-Makah.


Leon Scott Baxter, "The Dumbest Genius You'll Ever Meet," has been an elementary educator for the last eighteen years. He's the author of Secrets of Safety-Net Parenting, which helps parents raise happy and successful children. Learn more about raising happy successful children at or on Baxter's YouTube Channel.

Popular on Empowering Parents

Reader Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. margie1971 (Edit) Report

    Lost my beautiful husband and soulmate on 2nd January 2015. He was out the back cooking sausages on bbq. Next minute he was gone and nothing could bring him back. Brain aneurysm. No warning, no symptoms, nothing. He had poured us a glass of wine 2 minutes before and we were laughing over some work story i had. I cannot even explain the trauma of such an unexpected sudden loss. To lose the love of you life like this is beyond comprehension for anyone who has not experienced it. 10 weeks later I am still waiting for him to come home and i just cannot accept that he will never walk in the door again. He was a father to my 17 and 20 year old daughters. Their own father comes in and out of their lives when it suits him. For my girls, its like they have lost a 2nd father and it kills me to know how much pain we are all in. My 17 year old has high functioning autism. A big hearted, very loving young lady who would not hurt a fly. School and getting into the workforce always has been and will always be harder for her as she doesnt cope in crowds etc and is very much in her own little world. You would not find a better behaved teen. Her issues have never been about any type of poor behaviour but more about social anxiety, inability to do more than one task at a time and difficulty making and maintaining friendsships. She sits in her bedroom all the time at home, closes her door and reads. Its like her room is her safety zone and thats ok. She adores her older sister but feels like anything she does is not good enough for her sister.My 20 year old is the complete opposite. She is studying and working, has a boyfriend and her life is well and truly working out for the path she has chosen. She is a bubbly girl and has a great sense of humour. She has always had so much bitterness toward her sister though. Does not want much to do with her and makes no effort to try and have a relationship with her. At times I even think she acts like her sister is beneath her. My youngest daughter gets a small amount of disability income and is about to be part of a disability job network that will help her train and hopefully find a job in an area that is suited to her. It takes into account her social anxiety and difficulties. So very happy that there is help for her. She came shopping with me the other day and bought herself a couple of bits and pieces. My eldest daughter was absolutely livid about this. She also gets a small amount to help her while she is studying. Her words were “well its ok for some people (meaning her younger sister) I wish I could just go shopping and buy things i want for myself but I cant because i have to pay for petrol to get myself to and from study and by the time i do that i have nothing left”. She was working full time before she started studying so was used to a full time wage. Ive told her that you cant have it both ways if you are studying full time. Even though you may not have the cash because you cant work full time, you are bettering yourself and your future with your study. We are moving house in a couple of weeks and for the first time ever, I have given the larger bedroom with its own shower to my youngest daughter. In the past my eldest daughter always got the first pick of rooms but this time its her sisters turn For the first time in my eldest daughters life, its not all about her. Tells me she should have the big room because she needs a desk to study and she has a boyfriend etc etc. Now she is just walking around house with a terrible attitude and sulking over bedroom. She has ALWAYS internalised her feelings, never opens up to talk about what she is feeling etc. Underneath it all, she is hurting at the loss of her Dad as much as we all are. I have tried so many times to talk to her about her sister and how the everyday things we do are always going to be 5 times more difficult for her sister but it goes in one ear and out the other. My sister is staying with us at the moment to give us support and  has sat down and given my eldest daughter a few home truths about her behaviour. Did not yell at her or anything like that but was firm in letting her know her mum (me) has enough to try and cope with at the moment and doesnt need any more stress over who is having what bedroom. I would sleep on a park bench under newspapers if it meant I could have my husband back and I have no interest in any  material things. They mean nothing when you lose someone. Anyway, after my sister spoke with my eldest daughter, she packed her bag and left yesterday and is staying  at her boyfriends. I know my daughter and instead of using this time to have a good look at how her attitude is affecting everyone one else in our family, she would be feeling like no one wants her here and no one understands her and would be crying her eyes out. I have always been so close with my girls and always tried to keep the communication lines open but I simply don’t have any strength left at the moment to make things better with my eldest girl. One part of me thinks she needs this time to have a good look at her attitude and how it upsets everyone else and start learning to accept her sister for who she is and not like some competition. The other part of me is devastated she left at a time when we all need to be supporting each other and all i want to do is go and get my daughter, puts my arms around her and tell her everything will be ok. I don’t know if she is behaving like a  selfish brat or if deep down she is acting out because of the pain of losing her dad. She has always internalised her feelings if something is wrong   has difficulty opening up for me to try help her or just talk about it. All I know is that I cant take much more of anything at the moment. I am seeing a grief counsellor but there is only so much they can help you with. I know I have to grieve for my husband but it seems I cant even do that  properly at the moment because his will was not valid and now there is so much to deal with in regard to estate etc. Like a lot of others we did not prioritise getting our wills done properly. I guess because at 44 years of age we talked about the things we could do together now kids were getting older and laughed about when we would both become grandparents and growing old together. We just didn’t live our lives thinking that one of us could be gone at any minute. I am so worried about my daughter and all i want is to be there for her. I know she too is hurting but I wont put up with her walking around the house with attitude over who gets what bedroom and barely speaking to me every time i ask her something. Its like she cant even see how she is just adding to a stressful and painful situation. I just dont know which way to turn.

    • Empowering Parents Coach drowden Report

      I am so sorry for your loss. I can’t imagine how difficult the
      last few weeks have been for you and your daughters. I’m glad to hear you are
      seeing a grief counselor. Having someone you can talk to directly is often a
      great way of finding support through difficult times. From what you have
      written, it sounds like your daughter is also trying to figure out how to make
      it through the changes she is facing, not only with the loss of her father, but
      also with the changes she is facing as she moves into adulthood. It’s
      understandable you would feel torn between two different responses, between
      wanting her to move back home and letting her have time to think about the
      situation. One thing to keep in mind is your daughter is now an adult and is in
      a position to move out if she so chooses. Allowing her some space to determine her next move will probably be beneficial
      for both of you. This doesn’t mean, however, that you can’t keep the lines of
      communication open by calling or texting her on occasion. You might even meet
      for coffee or lunch to talk about the situation. It would be beneficial to have
      clear limits and expectations in place around how she treats others if she does
      decide to move back home. This will help to decrease any misunderstandings
      around what is and is not acceptable within your home that may occur later on
      down the road. We have several articles about how to parent adult children
      living at home. One in particular you may find helpful is We appreciate you writing in and sharing your story. We wish
      you and your family the best of luck moving forward. Be sure to check back and
      let us know how things are going.



Join our NEW Total Transformation® Learning Center!

Practical, affordable parenting help starting at $14.95/month BECOME A MEMBER TODAY!

Empowering Parents is the leading online resource for child behavior help


Parent Coaching Sessions

7.5 Million

Global Visitors

10+ Years

Helping Families