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!

Model the Expected Behavior. It Leads to Quality Lives and Quality Health … for Your Children.

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Model the Expected Behavior.
It Leads to Quality Lives and Quality Health … for Your Children.


Before Andy was a year old I heard from every Early Intervention professional that I needed to “model the expected behavior.” They were adamant that if I wanted Andy to learn how to do something, I had to do it myself, too.


Ok, they weren’t talking about diapers or drinking out of a bottle. The idea was if I signed “more,” whenever I asked him the question – not just in play to teach the sign – he would learn it faster.


As the both the boys grew, it made perfect sense. If I want them to keep their toys picked up, I should pick mine up, too. If I want them to use certain language, I should use it, too. If I want them to take care regarding their appearance, I must take care, too.


How about this:
If I want them to eat well and exercise regularly, I should eat well and exercise regularly, I should show them how.

Apple-icon-smallModel the expected behavior.

So what’s the barrier? There are many, of course. One of the things I’ve learned coaching families of kids with Down syndrome (and related disabilities), is that it’s hard to focus on our own health. There’s so much that is very important to do, that it feels selfish to focus on ourselves.


When I say that about my own life, a well-meaning professional will tell me, “you need to care for the caretaker to be able to provide care.”  I undestand the concept. Yet it feels selfish to do when I’m trying to develop community connections and watching my child’s loneliness grow or he is not well.  The trips out on the bike get fewer, the trips to the gym seem too time consuming, spending time working out menus feels frivolous. And my quality of health lingers.


Is that modeling the expected behavior? No.

A study published in Obesity, provides perspective – for your child with Down syndrome and all your family.

The study followed 80 parent-child pairs over a five month period involved in family education programs for childhood obesity. Some were in a program that focused on teaching parents only. Others were involved in a program that included the parent and the child. The researchers looked at the effectiveness of three types of parenting skills taught in the classes:

  • Leading by example (model the expected behavior by losing weight or changing health behaviors),
  • Changing the home food environment (restricting access to undesirable foods), and
  • Parenting style.


What did they learn? Those who chose to model the expected behavior had the only statistically significant impact on their child’s weight.


I am certain the other areas measured – as well as many strategies learned in the program – played a role. However, none were as strongly linked to a change in Body Mass Index (BMI) for the children in this study than the parents modeling the expected behavior to reduce their BMI.


What does this mean?


It means going to the gym, taking a walk, keeping a food journal, working with a dietitian, and losing weight to create your quality life and quality health is modeling the expected behavior for your child. It’s not selfish. It’s effective.

Model the expected behavior.


Let me know how it goes!

joan sig



Boutelle, K., Cafri, G., Crow, S. Parent Predictors of Child Weight change in Family Based Behavioral Obesity Treatment. Obesity. Spring 2012. (accessed online 3/23/12)


PS: What will you do to model the expected behavior for your child and family?

Consider these options:



Good Food...Bad Food

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Good Food … Bad Food?

Once upon a time, I had two young boys. One was in kindergarten and the other in second grade. Though not perfect, I was pleased with the variety of foods – including vegetables – they ate. I had worked to apply the theories I learned as a dietitian, and was amazed at how well it worked. They ate when hungry, not when bored. They ate a wide range of foods, with no one food ruling any meal. They didn't have meltdowns at the check stand over impulse candy displays. They readily ate broccoli, carrots, and other veggies out of the garden. They tried new things. 

image of "good food"image of "bad food."

Then one day, a teacher did a nutrition unit and introduced
the concept of
“Good Foods” and “Bad Foods.”

That was the beginning of the end.

The lasting message my son and his friends heard was all the foods they saw as special – candy, licorice, ice cream, chips, spaghetios, and so on – were in the “bad food” category and all the “green foods," or foods Mom served, were in the “good food” category.

Suddenly, the shredded baby carrots I added to tuna salad was a source of ridicule at school. Whole wheat pita bread was weird .  "Salad" became a dirty word. "Healthy" was a word to avoid. Thankfully, this trend was not to be life-long, but it did last after my oldest left for college.

Words matter.

For parents of children with Down syndrome, especially in the teenage and adult years, this is a very important lesson. In our zeal to promote a healthy life, it’s easy to fall into the trap of creating black and white categories of things that are “good” and things that are “bad.” Trust me, I understand.

However using this good/bad approach leads to unwanted behavior, such as

  • Eating "bad" foods to gain attention,
  • A way to rebel or express frustration.
  • Your recruitment to the food police force.

What to do?

Use different words.

Over time it will change your attitude about food and your child’s. Just as the words "good" and "bad" affect choices. Change also includes using tools such as planned ignoring, environmental controls, setting family food rules, and so on. This is a very individual thing and often a topic in my Wellness Walk Coaching Services.

Here's one approach.

Rule #1: there is no “bad” food.

Now try this vocabulary for food choices:


Sometimes Food.

Food that is better for you.

Food that is great for you.

It’s positive behavior support around food choices. The focus of your words is on what it does for your body.  It also offers more categories than the black-and-white of "good food" and "bad food." 

Remember, this year's theme is Connect.  Connect the way you describe food to words that offer choices, rather than judgement.

You have good company in this project of re-defning food vocabulary. Check out this article about Walmart’s program to offer healthier foods in their stores.

Here's your Action Step for this blog:

Practice using the vocabulary framework above for the next week.

Comment on the blog here and tell me how it went or answer this question:

"How does changing the way you talk about food choices change your attitude?"

Have a great week!

Snow Globe Reflections

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Snow Globe Reflectionssnowflake

It seems Winter finally connected to the calendar, even in Portland. We’ve had some predicted winter weather today. Portland is one of those places where things stopwith the winter weather. The slower pace helps you connect with what is happening around you and drink in the beauty of the big white snowflakes of your personal snow globe.

It’s true. People from areas of the country who are accustomed to snow and ice laugh at how just a dusting of snow becomes a major news event in Portland. It’s true, we’re winter weather wimps. (Here’s my all-time favorite video of Portland driving in a snow storm.)

What it does do, however, is slow the pace dramatically and connect. We actually sit by the window and watch the snow fall with cups of hot chocolate and marshmallows. Now that our kids are grown, we watch the neighbor children get out their gear and slide down the hill. A favorite activity, for me, is watching Andy react to the change in the landscape. He’s hard to convince that turning from green to white is a good thing. He wisely walks next to the buildings where the ground looks the way it should.

Today’s snow is nothing like that in the video. It barely slowed us down – don’t tell the news shows as they’re busily broadcasting winter warnings. It did, however, connect us a little tighter as we piled in to the car to go visit my Dad. It felt good. It felt healthy. Today my vision of health for our family was our reality.

To reach our family vision for health means to connect to each other – and to or choices followed by our community. We did that today in our Portland snow globe.

How did you connect with each other today?

What next step can you take to deepen your connection to each other?