Superheroes are an iconic part of our culture and they impact children perhaps most of all. While superheroes can provide important role models and help bolster a child’s creativity, they can also present a level of danger to kids who take the superhero fantasy too far. It’s possible for your child to maintain his appreciation of superheroes without partaking in unrealistic or dangerous behaviors.
Moreover, it is important for children to grasp the concept of heroic culture which embodies helping others. Isn’t that an important lesson? Our goal as parents is to not only lecture kids about charity and aid but be mindful of our own actions to teach by example. So, do your actions make you a superhero parent?
The Importance of Role Models
Adventuresome and risk-taking play is an inevitable and important part of being a kid. Further, hampering children’s seemingly unrealistic dreams can also put a damper on their creativity. Role models, such as villain-fighting superheroes, are often essential components of these childhood fantasies. The National Association for the Education of Young Children explains superhero play helps children develop language and problem-solving skills.
Children look to role models to provide examples for behavior, ideas and values, according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Role models serve as examples children copy in their activities and in interactions with others. Whether negative or positive, children make decisions about how to act, think and feel based on the influence of role models. Parents are the most important role models for children, but caregivers, other family members and friends who spend time with the child also are also role models.
Delusions of Grandeur
According to the “Archives of Disease in Childhood,” superhero role models can be problematic for children. In several case studies noted by the journal, children donning superhero costumes sustained potentially serious injuries due to unrealistic expectations about their abilities while wearing the costumes. In all the cases studied, the children involved partook in extreme risk-taking behaviors that resulted in hospitalization. The NAEYC recommends instead of discouraging superhero play for fear of how kids might hurt themselves, helping children make the most of it by finding ways to discuss how this play can be done safely.
Scaling It Back
Make sure your child understands the difference between human and superhuman capabilities and that donning a superhero costume does not give him superhuman powers. Additionally, some costumes may have more padding than others, which can make a significant difference when it comes to what could potentially injure your child while he’s wearing a superhero costume. When considering the purchase of superhero costumes, take into consideration age-appropriate play.
Explaining the Difference
Superheroes are fun for children to fantasize about and are a good means of learning about “good” and “bad,” but the NAEYC recommends talking to your kids about real life role models too. The NAEYC says talking to your kids about figures like Martin Luther King Jr. shows how people in the real world can demonstrate acts of courage. Superhero play can also be an effective tool in teaching kids about other educational topics. For instance, Spiderman might influence a child’s interest in the world of insects.
How to be an Effective Role Model for your Children
Being a positive role model actually requires effort, fore-thought, and self-control for most parents. Because your children are watching you all the time, your actions, beliefs, and attitudes become integrated into your children’s way of being; therefore, it is very important that you be very intentional about what behaviors you model for your children.
Being aware of this huge responsibility can encourage you to better yourself: for example, if you do not want your child to smoke, then one of the most effective ways you can communicate that is to quit smoking yourself or not start in the first place.
Read more: How to make your child resilient
Walk the Talk
Unfortunately for parents, the saying “Do as I say, not as I do” simply does not work. Children can sniff out hypocrisy like a blood hound, and they gain the most from parents who demonstrate consistency between their actions and their values by “walking the talk.”
If you don’t want your children to lie to get out of going to school by feigning illness, then you best not lie about taking a “sick” day from work.
If you don’t want your children to spend excessive time on technology devices, you have to limit your use of the same devices.
Kids respect adults who live by the rules they preach. Hypocrisy disillusions children and sends them looking for alternative role models to follow.
Review your Own Behavior and Attitudes
Model through your own actions. For example, consider how you:
handle stress and frustration
respond to problems
express anger and other emotions
treat other people
deal with competition, responsibilities, loss, mistakes
celebrate special occasions
take care of yourself (what you eat, how much you exercise, balance your commitments)
Model Through your Words
Your children are not only watching you carefully for clues about how to be; they are also listening to you. The way you speak, what you speak about, and the opinions you express will influence their values.
Consider how you speak to them, your spouse, your friends and neighbors, the check-out person at the grocery store.
Do you model respect of others through your words and tone of voice?
Do your words indicate respect for differences and tolerance toward all people or do they subtly support lack of acceptance for others different from yourself?
Do you “bully” your children with harsh words and threats when they misbehave or do you respond with discipline based on respect for your children’s humanity?
Focus on Positives you Can Model for your Children
Ask yourself what kind of people you want your children to become, and then consider what you can do to model the behaviors and attitudes that would reflect that kind of person. This is another way of saying that it is helpful for you to examine your own values.
For example, do you want your children to:
develop a strong work ethic? have a generosity of spirit? have courage? stand up for their beliefs? be kind and considerate? be patient? be diligent and persistent? be assertive? be a contributing member of society? take good care of their bodies? be open to new learning? To find pleasure in reading? If you wish for these traits in your children, then do these things yourself!
Build Strong Relationships with your Children
You will be a larger influence in your children’s lives if you have a warm and nurturing relationship with them, and your children are more likely to emulate you if they feel close to you and supported by you.
Give them unconditional love in a safe environment that also provides consistent, firm, and flexible discipline so they know what is expected of them.
Listen to them without judgment when they are upset. Share your own feelings with them so they get to know you; share some of your choices and decision-making as examples to guide them.
Find ways to have fun with them, to share interests, to enjoy one another’s company (preparing a meal, discussing a TV show, playing sports together, etc.).
Build a connection with them based on trust so they know they can count on you when they need you, and so that they learn to be trustworthy in return.
Be Forgiving of Mistakes
Nobody is perfect – neither you nor your children. That means that mistakes will be made. What is most important when mistakes are made is the way you handle the situation.
When you or your children or someone else makes an error:
are you unforgiving or accepting?
do you deal calmly with the situation to resolve it or do you berate the perpetrator?
do you get angry and look for someone to blame or do you assess what has gone wrong and consider what can be learned to avoid a repetition?
If You Make a Mistake
If you make a mistake by doing something that you later regret, you can use that as an opportunity to show your children how to handle errors in judgment by:
acknowledging the misstep.
accepting responsibility for your part in it.
apologizing to any hurt parties.
finding ways to make amends.
thinking about what you can do next time so you don’t repeat the error.
These steps are all part of a healthy process of reacting when you mess up. This is the same process you can use if you respond to your children in a way that you later regret.
If Your Children Make a Mistake
And what do you do when your children make a mistake? You can:
let them know that mistakes are opportunities for learning and that nobody is perfect.
help them to go through the steps outlined.
have a forgiving and responsible attitude toward making mistakes.