Have you ever seen someone do something and then been able to do it yourself? You might not have realized it, but you probably do it all the time! Maybe you watched a YouTube video of how to do the Take Charge Routine or how to create animated Instagram Stories, or maybe in your doula training you watched someone give a hand massage and then gave one yourself. Even in very informal settings you pick up on how to use a self checkout, how to move through a long line at the airport or better ways to chop vegetables when watching a cooking show. Children learn much of what it is to be human from watching their parents and doing things alongside their parents. This kind of learning is called Observational Learning, and it’s based on the concept of modeling.
When you see something modeled for you, it gives you information on how to do it. You might go on to practice it right away, like in a classroom setting where the facilitator guides you to do that. But you might now use it for a long time, but the seeds of how to do it were planted when you saw someone else do it.
Here are some ways that doulas model things for their clients:
Modeling skills – when a new parent sees a postpartum doula burping a baby, changing a diaper or talking to the baby, they can learn from seeing you do it. At births, partners watch and listen to what you do to gain ideas for what they can do, too.
Modeling calm – New parents are experiencing so many things they have never experienced before, and there are big emotions involved. You can show them how to stay calm through all that. If you need to take a break, do some calming breathing, etc. go ahead and let the new family see you do that. It shows them that it’s okay to do that.
Modeling communication – The way you interact with your clients, with care providers, and with staff can teach clients and show them what’s possible. I have seen my clients pick up on words and phrases I’ve used and use them later in their labor.
Modeling standing up for yourself – When you draw and maintain boundaries with your doula clients, you’re demonstrating for them how they can do that with others in their life. So don’t let your clients trample all over your family life and learn to set and maintain professional boundaries.
But modeling doesn’t just give you things that you can do, it can also prevent you from trying something. We learn not just the things we see modeled, we learn about the possible things that come afterwards. If you’re watching a birth story video, and you see a doula get chewed out for something they did, that could make you less likely to try it in the future. If you see a video where doula support made a big positive difference, you may be more likely to try that approach yourself.
So while you cannot always control the results of what you do as a doula, it can be helpful to think about approaching advocacy and potential conflict in ways that encourage, rather than discourage, your clients from adopting the techniques you are modeling for them.