Basic Processes Adults Use to Influence Children

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Jul 20, 2010

Modeling, direct instruction and coaching, using reinforcement and comments, managing the environment, stating expectations, and encouraging children to modify their attitudes and understanding all can influence children. All adults—authoritarian, authoritative, or permissive—use these basic processes to directly and indirectly influence children. In this section, you will read about each of the basic processes that are used by adults, whatever the caregiving style, to influence children. For example, all adults use the basic process of modeling, but an authoritarian adult demonstrates behavior that is very different from that modeled by an authoritative adult. The process is the same, but the content is different.


Much human behavior is learned simply by watching someone else perform the behavior. The other person is the model, and the basic process is modeling. Perhaps the best-known researcher to give us information about this process is Albert Bandura. His classic research (1971) demonstrates that children can effectively learn a behavior just by watching it. Although children can learn from several types of models (e.g., cartoon characters, pictures in books, and movie or video characters), Bandura’s group showed just how powerful adult models are in demonstrating aggression. Adults can also model other behaviors such as kindness or fear.

Children learn undesirable behaviors—such as aggression or abusiveness—by observing models. An authoritarian parent or teacher who disciplines by hitting or with sarcasm actually models (demonstrates) aggressive behavior. You will also see evidence throughout this book that children just as effectively learn more desirable and positive behaviors—such as generosity, cooperation, kindness, and helpfulness—through the same basic process. An authoritative adult who uses positive discipline teaches a different lesson than does the authoritarian adult.

Imitation is different from modeling. A child might learn, for example, how to be kind to animals by observing his teacher model the behavior. The child learns the behavior. There is no guarantee, though, that the child will also perform the behavior that he has learned. When he does perform a behavior learned via modeling, then he has imitated the behavior. Children in this country observe thousands of acts of violence on television and in video games before they enter first grade. They have, then, several thousand sessions of modeling of aggression and violence. They learn the violence. Whether they imitate what they have observed is another story. Avoid saying, “He modeled after the television violence.” Instead, consider saying, “He imitated the violence modeled in the television show.”

Direct instruction

involves intentional and explicit teaching. There are many examples of adults influencing children through direct instruction. Teacher education students take curriculum courses so that they can learn developmentally appropriate methods of giving instruction in math, science, social studies, and language arts. Adults also instruct children in physical safety, such as traffic safety, safe use of toys, and how to recognize “good” and “bad” touches. We instruct children about so many things: the correct way to hold a baseball bat, build a campfire, ride a horse, or execute a figure eight on skates.

Consider the benefits of instructing children in social skills—how to make and keep friends, how to take another person’s perspective, how to work cooperatively with friends, and how to resolve conflicts (King & Kirschenbaum, 1992; Lavallee, Bierman, & Nix, 2005).

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