Impressing our food allergic child with the necessity and importance of following food safety measures can seem a daunting task.
Fortunately, teaching by example, or modeling, affects our children’s behavior far more than telling them what to do. An observing young child does not even need to understand their parent’s behavior for learning to occur.
Learning By Watching
Observation is a powerful teacher because of the mirror neurons in our brain. When kids watch us buckle our seat belt, for instance, their mirror neurons activate as if they were engaging in the behavior. This means the neural connections made in a parent’s brain when fastening the belt are also made in the child’s brain by watching the parent buckle up.
Though modeling does not ensure children will behave in certain ways, it’s an important and potent means of transmitting information, values, skills, and habits, including those crucial for food allergy safety:
- Because you always read food labels to look for allergens, your ever observant child is creating neural pathways for the same habit in their brain.
- When you take the time to patiently educate others about living with a food allergy, an ever watchful child is learning to teach others as well.
- As you include your child in the regular renewal of auto-injector prescriptions, he or she is absorbing the importance of doing so.
- Kids who witness their parents being polite and assertive with restaurant personnel to make sure a meal is safe, is acquiring the same skill.
- Every time you pull a commercial wipe out of your bag and clean off an airline tray or a cafe table top, your eagle-eyed child is assimilating the action.
Mirroring and learning also goes on at the emotional level. For instance, parents who repeatedly manage food allergy anxiety by focusing on proactive safety strategies are transmitting this coping skill to their children.
The consistency of a parent’s behavior is the key factor in successful modeling, and it’s even more powerful when both parents regularly model identical behaviors. The importance of carrying auto-injectors, or washing hands before a meal is made doubly clear when both Mom and Dad habitually do it.
The downside of modeling is that children can also pick up our not-so-good habits. However, since most parents of food allergic kids are diligent about engaging in food safety measures, they maybe will rest a bit easier knowing that their attentive child is continually being taught to keep themselves safe.
Photo credit: Leonid Mamchenkov