…on being a (good) role model

What does modeling mean when looking at human behavior? Modeling means showing those around us the “desired behavior” we want them to emit.

Jessica L. Fuller
Photo by Valeria Ushakova on Pexels.com

Life as we know it has changed drastically for most of us. Our roles have drastically shifted from being on the go professionals to becoming stay at home parents, learning to homeschool, whipping up new cooking repertoires, and learning to balance a work from home routine. While some have had more restrictions than others, we have all become slaves of the media and have sometimes let fear overcome our reasoning. Although I try to steer away from mass media for personal wellbeing reasons, much of my job is based around being on the web. Of course, not all media is bad, in fact there is an incredible source of knowledge that can be learned from platforms like Facebook groups and news outlets, the issue is its delivery and the wording that often creates fear and panic rather than a learning platform. The worst part of all  is that the fear and often times anxiety we acquire from these outlets can be easily (and often unintentionally) to our children and those around us. 

In behavior analysis, we talk a lot about role models and good modeling behaviors to teach our learners certain skills. The idea that our learners observe what we as therapists/parents do will in turn provide the opportunity for them to engage in more appropriate behaviorsHow we react to stressful times can create an environment of stress and fear for our littles or create a path to teachable moments. Moments in which we can create valuable lessons that will impact their life for the long hall. 

What does modeling mean when looking at human behavior? Modeling means showing those around us the “desired behavior” we want them to emit. In other words, acting how we would like others to act. A lot of times we create situations when teaching little one’s appropriate social skills like waving hello or using our manners (e.g., exaggerating the word please and thank you so that they mimic our words). Other times we are what is called an unplanned model- in this concept, we are unaware that we are acting in a way that others are observing and could mimic our behaviors (i.e., when traveling to a new country, Spain, and you walk into a coffee shop. You realize it is quite different that back home as there are no tables or chairs. You look around and observe what others do. You notice that people walk in, approach the counter, order their pastry and espresso and stand around chatting while they eat, coffee in one hand and napolitana in the other. That person has now modeled the necessary skills and behaviors needed to be successful in that environment. Now you follow the same steps that person completed and listo! You are enjoying your espresso and pastry). 

This same concept applies to what we as individuals do every single day. We often become unplanned models for our little ones. We engage in behaviors that they observe and then engage in. I started thinking about this as I sat with a few friends and their kids the other day for lunch. The conversation revolved around what they had done this weekend and how much drinking they did and were probably still drunk (we have all been there, no judgement here). We all laughed and then I began to observe how one of my friends’ kids was incredibly quiet using her listening skills to the maximum capacity. It dawned on me at that moment that she may probably grow up to follow those same patterns of behavior, maybe even engage in that same conversation laughing with her friends about how she drank too much the night before. So, in that moment, my eyes opened even wider to the importance of being mindful around our children. We often think that they may not be listening, but they most often are. We should be mindful about what we say around them and that doesn’t stop at conversations about drinking or partying. In today’s world, we must be mindful about our words. That doesn’t mean put a filter per se but taking the time to choose our words and actions wisely in the presence of little ears. Furthermore, applying this idea to our current state of pandemic, economic crisis, political debates, social issues.. let’s take a moment to reflect on our values and what we want to teach our future generation. What patterns of behavior would we like to see different in that generation? Do we want them to act as we do? Do we want them to become slaves of the mass media? Or do we want them to reflect and learn to create their own thoughts… We are the products of our environment; we grow up to follow the footsteps of those around us. When we are little we are heavily imprinted by the actions of others, rising up to be better starts with our own patterns of behavior. It starts with making conscious choices that will better the lives of those around us. As we continue living day by day in a world of uncertainty, one thing we can do, is try to be better every single day to make a meaningful impact for our world. 


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Jessica L. Fuller, M.S., BCBA is a board-certified behavior analyst and wellness advocate working with individuals on creating more meaningful lifestyles by incorporating mindfulness into their everyday lives and tracking behavior change though the use of behavior analysis. Jessica grew up in the Yucatan peninsula and was heavily influenced by the diversity of lifestyles and cultures that created the city she grew up in, Playa del Carmen. She is currently pursuing a doctoral degree at TCSPP were her research focuses on intercontinental remote training and mindfulness practices within a behavior analytic scope.

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