We’re building a new UNICEF.org.
As we swap out old for new, pages will be in transition. Thanks for your patience – please keep coming back to see the improvements.

Communicating with children

Guideline 3B

Use positive modelling


Children and adults learn best from repeatedly seeing and hearing actions or ways of thinking that we would like them to emulate or “model,” however a lot of communication presents negative models (such as violence, stereotypes, name-calling, unsafe or unhealthy behaviours and practices), with brief messages at the end telling audiences not to do what has been shown.

Rather than telling children what not to do and portraying only the problem itself, it is more effective to portray positive models for what we want children to do (such as being generous, fair, honest, caring and responsible) to reinforce positive action and thought.

Positive Example: Use positive modelling

Talking with Young People: Montage (The Heroes Project, Kaiser Family Foundation, Gates Foundation’s Avahan Initiative, India) is an HIV/AIDS (prevention, stigma and discrimination reduction) TV campaign in which a variety of adults are shown creatively opening up a dialogue with their adolescent children. Mothers and sons, fathers and daughters all model the importance of talking openly.


A Lesson in Positive Modelling

Sesame Street: Fear of Monsters (Sesame Workshop, USA) is a TV series with a recurring cast of puppets. In one episode, the character Ernie cannot sleep because he imagines a monster is in his room (which viewers do not see). Then he sings a song about bad things going away. Even though Ernie ends up going to sleep, research found that children focused on the monster and fear rather than on the soothing song. This experience taught everyone involved that, “You have to make the resolution just as salient as the conflict or else the resolution is just not going to be remembered.”

 Turning Theory into Practice

This guideline can be translated into communication in many ways, including:

  • Rather than showing children engaged in dangerous behaviour and suffering the consequences (e.g., lighting a match and getting burned), show children taking positive action to prevent harm (e.g., seeing a box of matches, discussing whether to walk away or tell a grown-up, doing something that prevents them from injury)
  • Rather than depicting scary situations or images, show ways children can help themselves when they are afraid (talking to a trusted adult, singing a song, thinking of a happy memory, etc.)
  • Modelling children mobilizing their communities (e.g., on a trash-strewn street everyone from the youngest child to oldest adult gets together to create a central disposal area; a child who is blind teaches her peers how they can safely cross streets by carefully listening to sounds on both sides and in front of themselves)
  • Modelling adolescents being supported by adult mentors, women and men (e.g., adolescent girls living in difficult circumstances are helped in their fight against sexual exploitation)
  • Model nurturing men who make early or basic child education exciting and demonstrate how children can learn a tremendous amount with limited resources


 Guideline 3A  Guideline 3B  Guideline 3C Guideline 3D



New enhanced search