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How a Child’s Behavior is Impacted by Their Parent’s Social Skills

If children generally act the way they’re taught to act (through both observation and active learning), then what happens when the person teaching them has never learned socially appropriate ways to behavior?

Deductive reasoning would tell us that the child would also think it was “normal” to act in socially inappropriate ways.

As a society, we readily acknowledge this correlation when it comes to how a student performs academically in school, but we tend to overlook it when it comes to how a student behaves socially in school. We understand that if a parent uses improper grammar and think that academics are stupid, then (odds are) the child will also use improper grammar and have a negative view of academics.

However, when we come across a child whose natural speaking voice is a yell, or whose means of disagreeing is arguing, or whose way of getting what they want is manipulating … we don’t always attribute those things to how they were raised.

We usually see their social/emotional behavior as autonomous. Or rather, we see them as a choice, rather than a pattern of learned actions.

There’s a student at my school right now (I’m a behavior specialist at an elementary school) who is regularly described to me as “rude,” “argumentative,” “disrespectful,” “irrational,” or “immature.” He yells a lot, he gets mad when he doesn’t get his way, he calls teachers out for things that most children would never dare speak out loud, and his voice is SO LOUD, even when he’s whispering.

Generally speaking, those behaviors would equate to being rude, argumentative, disrespectful, irrational, or immature. However, those words reflect a person who is intentionally focusing only on themselves instead of considering of other people, as well. And when you’re talking about a six-year-old, of course he’s only thinking of himself.

For one, he’s six years old. He’s only just begun to even see that other people are in the room.

For two, nothing a six-year-old does is intentionally malicious. They might be seeking an end goal, and they might be willing to make someone else feel bad in order to get what they want, but it isn’t because they WANT the other person to hurt. It’s just because they want to get to their end goal more than they want to protect the other person.

Because at six years old, the desire to protect other people and place them above oneself hasn’t yet formed in most people.

Furthermore, this particular child was raised by someone who shouts as a form of speaking. His mother is loud, abrasive, blunt, and crass. She doesn’t behave in any of those ways to offend people; it’s just the way she has learned how to get what she needs. She’s more rational and selfless than her son, but she’s also had 20-30 more years to work on her social skills than he has.

However, he still hears shouting every day. He still sees people speak whatever is on their mind without considering how it might affect the person they’re talking to (or the little ears that are listening). He has a plethora of father figures who’ve come and gone in his life, and all of those have been abrasive.

When you see him in the hallway and the first thing you say to him is, “You’re being really loud,” do you expect him to respond with anything other than “disrespect?” That’s all he knows.

To take his response offensively would be egocentric and irrational. When adults become offended by the behavior of a small child, it makes me wonder where their self esteem truly comes from. Are they only validated by affirmation received by tiny humans who still pick their noses and forget to pull their dresses out of their underwear after they use the bathroom?

Come on, y’all.

Regardless of the child we’re discussing, a child should never be allowed to personally offend you. They are nothing more than an accumulation of what they’ve been taught throughout their years, and YOU choose what you allow to offend you.

It doesn’t matter how many times an adult (besides mom/dad) shows a child how to behave appropriately in society, they almost always return to what they learn from their parents because that’s what is most reinforcing to them. It’s what they learned from before they left the womb.

They can see alternative behavior for decades before they learn that it’s worthwhile.

When you’re working with a student, or watching a child in the grocery store, or seeing a teenager on the news … consider how much of what you’re seeing is reflective of their heart. Probably not much.

Don’t make assumptions about a child’s intentions, motivations, or character based on behaviors that mimick their parents’ behavior, which will most likely change throughout their adulthood.

Be kind to the people around you. Understand that they might still be learning new skills, even in adulthood.

Instead of judging them or being offended by them, offer them another example, reinforcing positive behavior ONE MORE TIME, without expecting immediate results. After all, just as children are a reflection of how their parents have raised them, our society is also a reflection of how its members have raised it.

How a Child’s Behavior is Impacted by Their Parent’s Social Skills

W. R. Cummings

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APA Reference
Cummings, W. (2018). How a Child’s Behavior is Impacted by Their Parent’s Social Skills. Psych Central. Retrieved on January 22, 2019, from


Last updated: 15 Feb 2018
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 15 Feb 2018
Published on All rights reserved.