The Importance of Being a Good Role Model: Parenting in Native Alaskan Villages
Children of all ages learn from everything they see, hear, and do and from everyone they meet. Children learn from their teachers, from the clinic health aides, from those they visit with and observe in their communities, and most importantly from their parents. Parenting is probably the most important job on the planet. Being a good role model is one of the most important parts of parenting.
Research shows that as few as 15 quality minutes daily with your child can make a world of difference in a child’s healthy development. Who better to entrust the future of one’s culture with than one’s child? Each day take time to talk and listen to your child. Each day teach your child through example the traditional values that sustain healthy village life.
In every village I visit I hear parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles telling children, “I love you.” These three words are one of the greatest gifts a child can be given. Followed up with a hug or extended hand to hold increases the gift’s value. An equally important daily gift can be that of sharing time with your child. Sharing oneself with one’s children helps children feel safe. When children feel safe, they are able to reach out, interact with the world around them, and learn.
What is success and how can parents role model success for their children? Success can mean a high school diploma or a college degree to some. To others, success can mean being a family provider, a carver, skin sewer, beader, or weaver. Parents must decide how they define success within their family and then work to role model this for their children.
Being a good role model for your children will not always win parents the “most popular” award. Saying “no” when necessary and giving children age appropriate restrictions probably will not be something your children will thank you for now, but so many times they will come back to thank you after they have grown up!
Some of the important lessons to role model for children include:
- How to manage disappointment and how to calm oneself when angry
- How to stand up for oneself in nonviolent ways when called names and bullied
- How to find support in friends, teachers and extended family members
- How to show respect - listen to parents, and elders, and not talk back
- How to have healthy, safe relationships – both with friends and in dating relationships
- How to study and do well in school
- How to set goals for a happy future
- How to be a helpful member of the household by doing one’s share
- How to turn down drugs and alcohol – as substance use conflicts with traditional values
- How to have fun, laugh and play safely
- How to share – both one’s things as well as oneself
- How to value life – as self-harm and harm to others conflicts with traditional values
Many of the skills listed above mirror Native Alaskan traditional values. Parents teach the traditional value of sharing and taking care of others as they themselves take good care of their children day to day. Providing food, clothing and a warm place to sleep satisfies a child’s physical needs. Teaching skills through hunting, gathering, food preparation/storage, craftwork and dancing helps take care of a child’s mental and emotional need to feel connected to his or her culture. Teaching children about a caretaker we cannot see helps provide spiritual nurturance.
Role modeling the traditional lifestyle teaches children how to set goals and plan for the future. Boats, four-wheelers and snow machines must be maintained and readied before the hunt. Guns, harpoons and ulus must be kept clean and ready year round. When parents role model respect for the tools used to survive, children learn respect not only for practical things but for themselves and others as well.
Reprinted with the permission of the National Association of Social Workers.
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