One of the most important areas of child-rearing that parents should focus on is being a good role model for their children. This is something the Steipler Rav (a”h) commented on: “Role modeling is fifty percent of child-raising.”
There is a story of a young man who asked the Chafetz Chaim (a”h) when and how he should prepare himself for raising children. The Chafetz Chaim asked him, “Where are you holding in life?”
“My wife just gave birth to our first child,” the young man replied.
“Mazal Tov,” said the Chafetz Chaim. “But you are a few years too late!”
The Chafetz Chaim was conveying an important message. Chinuch should begin when parents are still single, when they create and mold themselves to be the best role models possible for their future children.
Parental role modeling can be defined in your actions or behavior that have a subtle and very powerful influence on your children. The reason for this influence is because children naturally imitate and emulate their parents’ behavior.
The Kaminetz Mashgiach, Rav Moshe Aharon Stern, explained the dynamics of role modeling as follows: “The greatest people in a child’s eyes are his parents – and what they do is like Torah from Sinai. Children observe and study their parents’ behavior and it’s recorded in their subconscious mind, leaving a lasting impression. Why is this? Because parents are the most reliable source for priorities and values in life. Children trust that their parents will not transmit any non-Torah or non-ethical ideal to them. The parents are the number one Rebbis and educators, and their actions are the basis for proper chinuch.”
Furthermore, since a child’s intellect is not fully developed, he functions mostly from his emotions rather than logic. The result is that the child learns and absorbs more from what he sees than from what he hears. Therefore, showing your child how to properly engage in mitzvot and be a G-d-fearing Jew has a greater impact than telling him this fact.
Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetzky (a”h) adds that parents are not only the educators, but also the mashpiyim – the influencers. A teacher merely gives over the information. But the mashpiyah which comes from the root word, shipuah – slant, implies that the manner in which the parents act, talk and behave – automatically flows down to their children. Everything flows down into the child.