Lisa Smith, Founder of The Peaceful Parent, joins the podcast to talk about how much more our kids learn from our actions than our words, and to share a four-step process for modeling problem solving with intention.

Teaching our students is important. But until they have matured into those problem solvers of tomorrow, students are singularly focused individuals with a high need for modeling. 

As a teacher or parent, are you backing up your words with mirrored actions? If not, you might not be teaching your student what you thought you were.

In this episode, Lisa Smith, Founder of The Peaceful Parent, describes teaching versus modeling, and her four-step process for modeling problem solving with intention.

Teaching Versus Modeling

The truth is your student isn’t always listening to you. There are a few reasons for this.

Firstly, students are singularly focused individuals at their age. Secondly, the auditory functions of the ear do not develop until 15 years old. This combination almost guarantees your student won’t listen when you ask them to put their shoes on — especially if they’re already engaged in a different activity. 

What is the way to get through to them, then? Modeling, Lisa says. 

If you wanted to learn a new language, you would need to attend a class or listen to someone speak on an audio tape to get an accurate understanding. Similarly, people are much more likely to look up a training video on YouTube than read through an instruction manual. So, while it would be much easier if our students did as we said and not as we did, that’s just not the reality.

Modeling is your greatest tool as a parent or teacher, Lisa says. Your student is always watching how you handle situations, what comes out of your mouth, and how you treat other people. 

Before you tell your student to do something, make sure you’re holding yourself to that same standard. Otherwise, they’ll see the contradiction and learn something you didn’t intend. 

Four-Step Process for Effective Modeling

Ready to walk the walk for your student? Lisa shares her four-step process to help parents and teachers be more effective in their modeling approach:

  1. Be honest about what you model: If you’re asking your student not to lie, but then they hear you lie on the phone to get out of dinner plans, they’re learning that lying is okay sometimes
  2. Be intentional: Know what you want to model. If homework is important, make sure you’re prioritizing time to do that every day. 
  3. Heed words and actions: Don’t say one thing and do another. 
  4. Practice: If you’ve made a plan to do something intentionally, make sure it’s consistent.

Now that we have the process, what would a specific example look like when it comes to rectifying a student’s behavior?

Think about a young student that doesn’t want to brush their teeth at night, Lisa says. You care about their teeth and want them to be consistent with their brushing. To fix this, you decide to gamify the nightly routine with them. Once you’ve solidified your plan, you have to carry it out consistently and by their side if you want to succeed with your endeavor. 

Connection leads to cooperation, whereas commanding leads to compliance, Lisa says. Modeling can be challenging and requires a great deal of time on your part to show your student how to do something rather than telling them. But your efforts will be rewarded if you’re consistent and patient. 

Next Steps for Parents and Teachers

You’re committed to making a change and modeling for your students. But how do you know where to start? 

Watch how they mimic or describe you: For younger students, ask them to play house and see how they mimic a household setting. If they’re older, ask them to describe what you stand for as a parent or teacher. 

This will give you a clear, quick idea of where to start if there’s a response that is off the mark of what you’d like for your student. 

Modeling is challenging but not impossible. If you put in the consistent effort, you’ll see the fruits of your labor in time. Trust the process and remember to always back up your words with actions.

Guest Links 


This episode was brought to you by Art of Problem Solving, where students train to become the great problem solvers of tomorrow. 

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Episode Transcript

Lisa Smith Q&A [1:40]

Eric Olsen: On today's episode, Lisa Smith, founder of the Peaceful Parent, joins the podcast to talk about how much more our kids learn from our actions than our words and a four-step process for modeling problem solving with intention.

Lisa, talk us through the difference between teaching and modeling.

Lisa Smith: Great question, and I often chuckle when I discuss this. Teaching is talking at people, and that can be useful. It can be. But because our kids have underdeveloped brains, kids are not always listening to us. I recently learned that the auditory functions of the ears are not fully developed until 15. I went, "Oh, of course. Of course they're not." Right, right?

Eric Olsen: For some of us, I don't think they've developed all the way yet.

Lisa Smith: I live with someone who's still waiting to get his auditory skills developed.

Eric Olsen: Selective hearing, yeah.

Lisa Smith: My husband says the secret to a happy marriage is knowing when to listen and when not to.

Eric Olsen: That’s wisdom.

Lisa Smith: So the problem is is not only are kids not always listening, but they're singular focused people. They're not multitaskers. You need prefrontal cortex to multitask. So whatever they're doing, they're doing it. If I'm in the other room and I'm saying, "Hey, go put your shoes on," I have a very small chance that my child is going to hear, remember, and do what I'm asking.

Modeling is... Humans learn from what others do, not what they say. I was thinking about this today preparing to be here. I was thinking, if I wanted to speak Korean, I wanted to learn Korean, which I would love to learn, I would have to have that modeled for me. I would have to go to class or get an audio book, and I would need someone to speak it, which is modeling. Then I would practice modeling behind. If I wanted to be great at math, I would have to have the math problems modeled for me. This is why YouTube is so popular. If I want to unclog my garbage disposal, it's very difficult to read a manual and learn how to unclog. Instead, I go to YouTube, and I watch a video what's happening while it's being modeled for me, step by step, how to do it.

Our kids are no different. They don't do what we say. They do what we do. So modeling is our greatest tool. As a parent, we are 24/7 modeling what to do, and, in some cases, modeling what not to do. We just need to understand the difference. I promise you, our kids are always watching how we handle situations, what comes out of our mouth, how we treat other people, how we handle learning, how we handle problem solving. You could lecture your kids about problem solving. "This is what you need to do," and then you go and do the opposite, they're learning the opposite.

Eric Olsen: They're learning that he's a hypocrite. That's different, Lisa.

Lisa Smith: Exactly.

A four-step process for effective modeling [4:58]

Eric Olsen: I love the language learning metaphor there. It's fascinating thinking about how on earth could you learn a language if you never heard it or saw it spoken? That's really good. It's really good. Except modeling seems hard, Lisa. I like the "Do as I say, not as I do" model. So help us out here. Walk us through your four-step process for effective modeling.

Lisa Smith: It's so simple. I agree with you. I mean, I'd much rather you do what I say than do what I do. But the truth is is that we're modeling 10 times the amount of words we use. So I think to make it simple, modeling really comes down to these four steps. Step one you're probably not going to like, but it's true. We have to get clear and honest about what we're modeling. We have to ask ourselves... 

A great example is if I'm telling my child to tell the truth all the time... Let's say I'm saying in this family, "We don't lie. We don't lie." This is a common thing people say, "We don't lie. We don't lie." Then you call and invite me over to dinner. I take the call in the car. You ask me if I want to come over on Saturday night, and I say, "Oh, I can't. We already have plans," and that's not true, then what am I modeling for my child? I'm modeling that we don't always tell the truth. Let's say I model, we're not on our phones all the time, and I'm bringing my phone to the dinner table. So I think step one, honestly, is to be clear, be honest with ourselves. Do I understand what I'm modeling? It's important. It's really that discipline or that come-to-Jesus moment with ourselves.

Step number two is to be intentional. What do I want to model? What do I believe in as a family? For example, maybe I want to model that homework is very important, that we do our work, we study, we learn. Then I need to decide that I'm going to prioritize that. I need to set that time aside. Then I need to be intentional with my words and actions. This is probably the most important one is getting your words and actions to line up behind each other. So often we say one thing and do another, like the examples that I've given.

This was a turning point for me. When my husband and I sat down and we said, "Okay, what are we going to model? What are we going to teach through modeling?" and we got really clear. We have a 17-year-old, and you can just see the fruits of the labor. We have intentionally modeled things, like your body is your temple and you take care of it. You do what you say you're going to do. You treat all humans with the basic level of kindness, not respect but kindness. We work really hard at having our actions line up with our words. 

Another example is we make a commitment, we follow through. So we work really intentionally modeling being on time for things. As a result, my son is very, very, very rarely late for anything, anything, school, practice, appointments. I'm not saying that we're special people. It's that we've been incredibly intentional about the words and actions. Then the fourth step is practice, practice, practice, which is how you learn a language or how you learn to play the piano.

Eric Olsen: Lisa, so good. So let's get specific here. We have this four-step process. We want to raise problem solvers. We want to model problem solving for our kids. What should that look like? What could that look like?

Lisa Smith: What it looks like is I would say a three-step process, which is really identifying the problem. I think that's always step one. You have to know what problem you're solving, and then list all the potential solutions for the problem. If you really want to be a problem solver, I think that includes examining all sides of the problem. Then examining which solution looks like it's going to solve the problem and then carry it out.

It's really about being regulated when you identify the problem, whether it's, "I need you to brush your teeth." Let's take an example of I have a five-year-old, let's say, that doesn't want to brush his teeth each night. It takes a little bit of work to really identify, what is the problem? What is the problem? I'm trying to teach habits. I care about his teeth. I want him to take care of them. What are the solutions? Well, we don't brush our teeth. We brush our teeth right after dinner. We brush our teeth right before bedtime by making it fun. We make a game out of it. Then whatever we decide is the solution to the problem, we're disciplined to carry it out consistently so we send the message that in this family brushing our teeth is important.

Eric Olsen: I love that concept, and even the vulnerability, of being real with your kid and saying, "We haven't figured out how to brush our teeth yet. I've tried a few things. They haven't worked. Help me out here, kid. Let's problem solve this together." but be transparent with them. Modeling problem solving may sometimes be this reality that, "I can't figure this out. Let's figure this out together."

Lisa Smith: Well, anytime, we all know working in businesses, when you involve all the stakeholders in solving the problem, you have a much higher probability of success. So, often we forget that our children are a stakeholder in this relationship. I always talk about connection leads to cooperation, commanding leads to compliance. Part of problem solving is creating the connection. You feel seen, heard, and valued.

Eric Olsen: Lisa, such good stuff. Finally, leave us with some next-steps advice for parents who want to be better models. They want to better model problem solving in order to raise better problem solvers. Some final thoughts for us.

Lisa Smith: Good question. If you have little kids, watch how they play, watch how they mimic you. If you want to know what a real little we is learning from you, have them play house and be the mommy or the daddy and listen to what they're saying. It is eye-opening. It's eye-opening. If you have older kids, ask them to describe you. "Hey, son. Tell me what you think I stand for. Tell me what you think I care about." There's where you're going to get the information coming back your way. Sometimes you might be like, "Whoa, really? I've modeled that that's important? Okay. I've got some work to do here."

Enroll in AoPS Academy Math and Language Arts Summer Camps [11:47]

Eric Olsen: I got nervous just thinking about that scenario. Lisa's asking us to be brave. She's getting her Brene on today.

If you're looking to give your kids some problem solving reps this summer, AoPS Academy's Math and Language Arts Summer Camps are the perfect place to make sure your aspiring math beasts and grammar geeks stay engaged in learning and avoid the summer slide. Whether you're near our 12 physical learning centers across the country, or want to learn online from our AoPS Academy: Virtual Ccampus, our engaging summer camps are high rigor, but low pressure. The perfect mental boost to help your student avoid the summer slide while having a whole lot of fun. Visit AoPS Summer Math & Language Arts Camps today to learn more and secure your student’s spot.

Lisa Smith Rapid Fire [12:40]

Eric Olsen: It's now time for our rapid fire segment called Problem Solved where we ask the guest to solve incredibly complex and difficult education issues in single soundbites. Lisa, what's one thing about K-12 education you wish you could snap your fingers and problem solved, it's fixed?

Lisa Smith: My answer's probably going to surprise you. But my answer is I wish that all teachers understood that all kids at all times are just trying to get their needs met. I really wish they understood this.

Eric Olsen: If you could go back and give your kid-self advice on their educational journey, what would it be?

Lisa Smith: It would be learn how to learn.

Eric Olsen: What part of education do you think or hope looks the most different 10 years from now?

Lisa Smith: I am the biggest champion in the whole world of this. I hope 10 years from now kids are not expected to sit still for eight hours a day, day in and day out. There's so little movement in the classroom today. I know having a strong-willed boy myself who has ADHD and dyslexia and is fidgety and learns through movement that he and so many kids would benefit from moving about the room and the school and the universe hour to hour. I mean, we are asking so much of these kids to sit all day.

Eric Olsen: A reminder for all of us to model standing desks for our little ones. And Lisa, what's your best advice for parents looking to raise future problem solvers?

Lisa Smith: My advice is to focus and model effort rather than results, effort. Effort matters.

Eric Olsen: And listeners, we'd love to hear your answers as well. So email us at with your best advice for raising future problem solvers. And we'll read our favorites on future episodes.

Lisa, thanks so much for joining us today.

Lisa Smith: Pleasure

Episode Summary & Conclusion [14:39]

Eric Olsen: I wasn't kidding friends. I was nervous to ask my kids so directly what they think of me, but I do want to know what I'm modeling, how they see me interacting in the world because I'm one of the couple most up-close and personal models they have for what navigating this crazy world is like. It's me and it's Daniel Tiger, and I need to make sure I'm holding up my end of the bargain. Maybe I need to start making up my own songs: “Pay attention to where your grocery cart is going. I can't get around you, and I'm starting to panic.” All right, I'll work on those. May you continue your journey alongside us raising the great problem solvers of the next generation. See you next week.

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