“Do as I Say, Not as I Do”: Does it Work?

“Do as I say, not as I do” is a typical parenting phrase that signals children not to copy negative behaviors they are about to witness. Some parents believe that simply telling their children what to do is enough to ensure positive development. But is that really the case?

How Children Learn

To understand how children learn, we must first look into how children absorb information.

Between the ages of 0-5, your child’s capacity for learning is at its peak. Your child is extremely sensitive to receiving and interpreting information at this stage. They can learn just about anything from anywhere.

However, studies have shown that young children learn mostly through observation. It stands to reason that if a child uses their eyes well before they begin to use their words, seeing would be the first way they interpret information.

Imitation then follows observation, where children copy the behaviors they have witnessed. In fact, children who imitate their parents’ behaviors have been shown to not only copy what they see, but also expand on them. This is evidence of concrete understanding and learning.

“Do as I Say, Not as I Do”

Does the phrase, “Do as I say, not as I do” appear to work? For effective child development, not entirely.

Communication is important with your child, but that is not the only way they should learn. In your child’s growth into their full potential, a model for good behaviors can be very important.

If you ask your child to pick up their toys after playing with them, but you leave your book out on a random table where it does not belong, your child will most likely copy you and leave their toys where it’s most convenient for them. If you regularly leave the house without eating breakfast, your child might not want to eat in the morning as well.

Sometimes, when your actions don’t align with what is said, contradictions can form in your child’s mind. Modeling one behavior and communicating the desire to carry out another causes mental tension for your child. To relieve that tension when making decisions, your child will make the choice that is easiest for them. Generally, this is the choice you don’t want your child to make.

“Do as I Do”

For the most efficient development for your children, you should try to become more mindful of what you do in front of them.

A good way to start is by writing down the behaviors you want your child to emulate. Think about how you realistically behave, then reflect on how you can adjust your own behaviors. Sometimes a behavior needs to stop, while other times it needs to be practiced more. Depending on your parenting goals, your own behaviors should serve as guidelines for your children.

Modeling desired behaviors, and still using constructive language, can make very positive and lasting impacts. Be mindful of how you behave, as your child is always learning!


How Cranium Shapes Positive Behavior

At Cranium Academy, we strive to help children reach their fullest potential through our revolutionary approach to learning that challenges them to think critically. By having our trained teachers ask them questions like “how” or “why,” children are shown a positive model for active thinking that encourages positive behavior and actions.