The Importance of Role Models and Special People in Your Child’s Life

In the early days of rearing a child, there is a tendency for some fathers to hand over all responsibility of looking after the children to the mother. There can also be a misconception that Daddy’s role only comes in when the boys are old enough to play ball, then Daddy can do all those “father and son” activities with the boys. Although it is refreshing to see more and more fathers taking on an active role in handling the baby, I still think this philosophy of child rearing (which was predominant in our parents’ era) still holds true in some families today.

When I was in Uni, the lecturer who lectured us on early childhood development in behavioural science said that when children are scared and they need security, they will turn to their mothers, and when children want fun and excitement, they will look for their fathers. There is a very distinct expectation in the roles that mothers and fathers play. Mothers aren’t supposed to be fun and exciting because when you’re scared, that is the last thing you want. Fathers are the ones that do all the daredevil stunts like hanging the kids upsidedown, throwing them up into the air, and behaving like portable monkey bars. Mothers are the ones that cuddle the kids when they get a cut, when they’re scared of the thunder, or when they have a bad dream.

As much as I’d like to think I’m the fun parent who does all the cool stuff, I know I don’t hold a candle against Daddy when he’s in top form. I know my heart skips a beat when I watch him handle the boys in a rather cavalier manner. Similarly, there is a reason why the boys reach for me when they cry instead of Daddy – because I’m the human pacifier. And if you read the advice for single parents, they are usually advised to find someone who can be a role model for the children representing a member of the opposite sex. For example, single mothers are usually encouraged to find a stable male role model for their children to identify with because it has been documented that fatherless boys are more likely to drop out of school and be involved with crime and drugs, while fatherless girls are more prone to early or risky sexual activity. I think this is because boys need a good male role model to look up to and emulate, while girls need a good male role model so she knows what kinds of behaviour are appropriate from members of the opposite sex.

Okay, I’m digressing. The point is both Mum and Dad are important in a child’s life and their involvement should begin from birth (or even before birth when babies can hear Daddy’s voice). Both parents are equally important in a child’s life and cannot be replaced by either one parent.

In recent times, I have begun to see the benefit of having alternative adults that our children are close to. For instance, Gavin has bonded very well to his Uncle S and has been having regular swimming sessions with him. When they go swimming together, Gavin comes out of his shell and he does things he would never do when I am around. I believe the word “daredevil” was even used to describe him. Most people who know Gavin would know that the word “daredevil” and Gavin just don’t belong in the same sentence. The first time I heard about the antics that Gavin got up to at the pool I did a double-take and wondered if Uncle S had somehow mistakenly taken someone else’s son to the pool instead of mine.

Diving into the pool, having his head go under the water and swimming out where his feet can’t touch the floor are just things that Gavin wouldn’t do when I go swimming with him. When I tried to teach him to float on his back, he wouldn’t even lie flat with my hands supporting him under the water. In the few swimming sessions that Uncle S has had with Gavin, he has gotten Gavin to do so much more than I could ever have hoped to achieve in a year. Unfortunately, I don’t get to see all this because the moment I rock up at the pool, Gavin turns back into Mr Kiasi (translation: afraid to die – what is usually used to describe a person who is too afraid to do anything because he is afraid it might kill him).

After some discussion with my SIL, we suspect that the reason for this change in behaviour might be due to the presence of his baby brother. Just as many older children regress in development with the arrival of a sibling, we think Gavin is afraid to appear too independent and capable in case he loses even more of our attention. As it is we often tell Gavin to do things himself because he is “old enough” and yet we do those same things for his brother because he isn’t old enough. Being away from Mum and Dad, and in the presence of someone he trusts, Gavin is free to be himself.

So if there are things your child refuses to try with you, perhaps getting a favourite aunt, uncle, or special person in your child’s life, to try it with him might be the way to go.

Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of (a website on parenting, education, child development) and (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

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