Model the Expected Behavior: Say it Out Loud!

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Model the Expected Behavior: Say it Out Loud!

In my last blog I shared a study in which the researchers found that modeling the expected behavior had the greatest effect on weight loss for children who are obese. I decided this would make a good theme and build some skills!iStock 000000228543XSmall-confused

It’s easy to say to someone “you just need to model the expected behavior,” and feel like you have just shared the best advice since chocolate. This is a little short-sighted.

I could hear the questions while I was writing the last blog:
“Fine. I’d love to model the expected behavior. What is it? How do I do that?”

Good question. I wish it was easy to do. If it was, I’d be out of a job! That is my job: to help you experience success in a way that you don’t need me anymore. With that in mind, I want to share some of my Top Tips for Modeling the Expected Behavior for Quality Health for People with Down Syndrome and Related Disabilities.


Top Tip #1: Use Self Talk.


Ok. It’s not a food tip. It is, one of the most effective. That’s right. I want you to talk to yourself. I recommend using this tip liberally. The only side effect is your friends. They may think you need a vacation.


Seriously. Self talk is a powerful way to model the expected behavior for eating. Especially for teens and adults with Down syndrome and related disabilities.


Dennis McGuire, PhD, from the Adult Down Syndrome Center is responsible for my use of self talk. In his 1997 article “Self-Talk” in Adults with Down Syndrome, Dennis shares that many teens and adults with Down syndrome us self talk as a way to problem solve and work through stressful events or emotions. He put to words what many parents and support persons experience every day. He reminded us that it’s OK to talk to yourself.  You can download this article by clicking here: Self Talk Article


Since then, I’ve thought about self talk a lot – and began using it as a secret weapon for health years ago.


Shortly after I published Dennis’ article in Disability Solutions, I began watching the young adults I was working with. What was their self talk like? When did they do this? When is it a help? When is it not a help? What do parents see?

Here’s one thing I learned from a young woman: many teens and adults with Down syndrome think we magically know what to do, how to do it, and naturally follow through. In fact, one young lady said that to my face, “You don’t have to worry about this. You always do the “right” thing.” I guess she wasn’t watching me eat my way through the stress of dating and college, or my kids’ preschool years. Our kids don’t see that we have the same struggles with food choices they do.


Model the expected behavior. Talk to yourself.


How do we show them? We tell them! Not by lecturing them. We show them through planned self talk. What I mean is that we can teach a lot to our children with Down syndrome and related disabilities by making our choices out loud. Here’s an example:

Wow that cheesecake was good. Look. There’s 10 more pieces over there on the buffet. No one’s going over there. I could have another piece and no one would notice. Mmmmm. Wait. If I do that, I will have eaten two deserts and had more than enough calories. I do feel full. I’m not hungry. But it was soooo good! Do I want to add another hour to my walk tomorrow to burn the calories of the second piece? No. tomorrow I was going to go shopping with my Mom. I guess I’ll wait. It was really good though. I’ll get the name of the bakery and buy some for a birthday party or something.

Of course there’s more to it than this. You also don't want to do this for every decision. People start to wonder. (Though Dennis is right: wear a blue tooth headset they may not wonder)  In coaching we talk about targeting topics for self talk and more.


Using self-talk to model the expected behavior is awkward at first. It doesn’t mean your child will immediately know what to do, either. It can level the playing field and bring more power to your ideas. Modeling self-talk doesn’t work for everyone. Nothing does. When it does, though, it works well.


Get out that broken blue tooth headset and get talking!