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This content is taken from the University of Reading's online course, COVID-19: Helping Young People Manage Low Mood and Depression. Join the course to learn more.
Two women making dumplings. The young person is watching what the older person does.

The importance of modelling

Parents, carers and other adults who are supporting young people may find these next three Steps particularly useful. If you’re a young person working through the course you may find it helpful to read these Steps too and to share them with those who care for, and support you.

We might not realise it, but our kids and other young people watch us and learn. They pick up ideas and habits from us and they notice how we respond to things and hold onto this information for later. Now you might think that your teenager would be unlikely to follow what you do, after all, they often seem to have the opposite opinion. However, young people learn from the people around them. Sometimes this is very subtle and not even the young person realises they’re picking up information from their parents, carers or other adults. So what are some of the ways that you can use your (powerful) tool of modelling behaviour to help a young person? The answer is, do things in the way that you would want them to do it.

“Do as I do, and as I say”

Things you can model:

  • Accepting your difficult feelings and thoughts and allowing yourself to be upset, angry, scared, low, frustrated (more on this in Week 2). You’ll need to keep an eye on what is an appropriate way of showing this (e.g. screaming in a fit of rage without explaining why you’re behaving this way isn’t helpful). Accepting difficult feelings and emotions means that you model it’s OK to experience different feelings. We’re human after all! When you allow and accept them, these thoughts and feelings eventually subside.

  • Be open about your feelings and label your emotions in front of the young person. This teaches young people the language for emotions and supports the first point above. It also shows that it’s OK to feel things.

“You know what, I’m feeling really frustrated and sad today because I can’t go out. I know it’s OK for me to feel this way though given the situation we’re in. I’m doing the best I can.”

  • Model all the helpful and positive habits discussed in Steps 1.4 – 1.9; structure your day, stay connected with others, don’t spend too much time on electronic devices, get into good sleeping habits, eat well, move your body and have some fun each day. Whenever possible, model calm behaviour and show how you solve problems. Your kids will be watching how you cope and will be learning from you (but they might not admit it).

  • Find alternative ways of thinking to change your mood (more on this in Week 2).

“I was really worried about my job not working out but I’ve decided to think about it a bit differently, perhaps this will actually be an opportunity for a new role.”

  • Look after yourself. Self-care is key to well-being and having the ability to care for others. You’ll explore this more in the next Step.

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This article is from the free online course:

COVID-19: Helping Young People Manage Low Mood and Depression

University of Reading