Observational Learning: Lead by Example

Observational learning is an important concept for every parent to know.

The idea that children learn from watching others was established by Albert Bandura.

His experiments with “Bobo the clown” essentially went viral in the world of psychology and is known very well to this day.

The experiments consisted of a role model playing with a Bobo the clown doll in one of two ways while the child subject was observing. One role model played nicely with the doll, while the other played aggressively.

Once finished playing with the doll, the role model left. Then, the child was able to play with the Bobo doll.

The child would mimic the behaviors that they witnessed. So, if they watched the role model play aggressively, they would play with the doll aggressively. If they watched the role model play nice, they would play with the doll nicely.

They would copy the behavior.

Here’s an original video with Bandura himself briefly talking about the phenomenon while showing examples.

So, what does this mean for parents?

It means that we all need to lead by example.

We need to make sure that our actions are in accordance with how we expect our children to behave.

If we fail to lead by example, then we fail to help our children reach become the best that they can be.

Do you want your child to be kind to others? Then you need to be kind to others.

Do you want your child to put an importance on hygiene? Then you need to put an importance on hygiene.

Leading by example is easier said than done. It is easy for people to lose track of goals and direction.

How many times have you become completely dedicated to getting an exercise routine started only to have it fall apart in 2-3 months? I don’t have enough fingers on my hands to count the times I have done this.

It’s hard to stick to a plan that’s not written out.

So, here’s my five-step process to make sure you’re consistent in leading by example.



Before you can take any action, you first need to figure out what you are aiming for. Otherwise, you will be running around with no sense of direction.

Which values are going to be important for your children to adopt on their way to becoming successful adults?

Is it honesty, kindness, forgiveness? Take a step back and look at the values you were taught growing up. Which ones were you not taught?

From these, create your own list of values that will guide your child to become the amazing person that you know they are.


Now that you’ve figured out where your focus should lie, it’s time to create an action plan.

This may be the most important part of the process because it will be the backbone of all your efforts.

Let’s say I want to teach Xander, my son, the value that is kindness. What are some things I can personally do to show him how to be kind?

Well, I can help others with miscellaneous tasks, give money to those in need, or tell others nice things. Through observational learning, Xander will pick up on these actions and start to implement them on his own.

However, let’s not stop there. I want you to figure out some things that your child can do to also follow the ideals of the value you want to instill. So, what are some things that Xander can do now to start learning the value of kindness?

I can ask him to share his toys with others, I can teach him to hug and kiss rather than kick and scream, and I can teach him to say nice things.

Now, Xander has only just turned a year old. This means that he will most likely not be able to pick up on what kindness is right away. Most children still do not know what is right or wrong at this age. However, there is no harm whatsoever in trying to start good habits as soon as possible. They will only benefit from it.

Make sure to write down 1-2 actions for both you and your children. Keep this list in a readily accessible place so that you can be reminded of it when off track.

Now, you just need to follow through with the habits you want to create. I would recommend to engage in the action listed in your plan once a day. If that’s too much, make sure you engage in your action at least once every other day. If you’re really ambitious, try to 10x it.

Remember, it takes time and consistency to create a habit. The longer the break between each action that builds the habit, the longer it will take for the habit to form.

Keep in mind, it takes roughly 21 days to start a simple habit. It can take multiple months to start a harder habit.

You are going to deter from your plan. I can almost guarantee it, and it’s ok. This is why we have a map in the form of an action plan to bring us back.

This is why I recommend having the action plan and your goals readily accessible. When you find yourself deterring from your goals, pull out that action plan to figure out how to get back on track. It’s going to help pull you back on the path you are paving for your children.

Take a deep breath, figure out where you went wrong, and get back on track. You can do it, you just have to stay focused.


Once you make it to this step, you can congratulate yourself. You have created a goal, established a plan, followed through with it, and have succeeded in your endeavors. This is no easy task, so don’t be modest.

Now, just because you have reached the finish line, doesn’t mean your journeys over. Life’s full of tests, challenges, and paths. This means that you have to keep educating yourself on the correct path to create for your children.

If you can accomplish the first four steps, then you have already proven to yourself that you can do it again.

Keep educating yourself through books, blogs, and videos so that you keep giving your child the best parenting that you can. You can do it, I believe in you.

If you can follow these steps, you’ll be on your way to leading by example for your children. This is incredibly important and the fact that you’ve reached this point of the post shows you’re obviously dedicated to doing so.

Our children look to use first to learn how to act and behave. Utilizing your knowledge of Bandura’s research, what are some values and habits you plan on using for your children?

Stay psyched

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