Beware what you teach your children - they may learn it!

A carton of milk is passed around the break­fast table, and as one of the chil­dren in the family mind­lessly grips the carton, the father of the house inten­tion­ally drops it a millisec­ond before the child gets a good grip.

The result­ing spill, scold­ing, clean­ing up and what-have-you, was intended by the father as a learn­ing expe­ri­ence for the child, to be more mind­ful of his/​her actions.

Teaching our chil­dren how to partake in the world is a parent’s most impor­tant task, so what exactly did the child learn from this expe­ri­ence?

Where most people would say ‘being more atten­tive’, I want to split the learn­ing into to two levels:
1) the super­fi­cial “lesson” level (be more atten­tive)
2) the level of direct expe­ri­ence

A Secondary level of learn­ing

The level of direct expe­ri­ence is where true learn­ing occurs. These are the last­ing parts of a learn­ing expe­ri­ence.

Will this child remem­ber to be ‘mind­ful’ at the break­fast table in the future? Maybe, although prob­a­bly not (at least in my expe­ri­ence, and I have three…)

What will stick with the child for a long time, though, is this:
“I cannot trust this man to do what’s right and fair, he delib­er­ately lets me fail and make a fool of myself when all I do is act like the child I actu­ally am…”

The level 1 learn­ing is so-so.

The level 2 learn­ing is cata­strophic to your rela­tion­ship with your child, hence the title of this post.

You can see the effect of poor level 2 learn­ing when parents later try to teach, coax, coach (or simply yell) at their child when s/​he is expe­ri­enc­ing a new situ­a­tion: Distrust, fear, nervous­ness, and/​or tears.

Secondary learn­ing is what life is about (no, I don’t mean that we are born on this planet to ‘learn’) because secondary learn­ing is what takes place subcon­sciously all-the-time, always, when­ever, constantly, get it?

Teaching our chil­dren to be part of the world is noth­ing we turn on and off as if we some­times teach them some­thing and most of the time not.

Children learn from what­ever we do, all the time.

When we say to our chil­dren “we cannot afford that”, the super­fi­cial lesson is ‘too expen­sive’ and the level 2 learn­ing is ‘poverty’. When we say “you don’t know how to do that”, level 1 is ‘this is danger­ous’, while the level 2 expe­ri­ence is ‘help­less­ness’.

If we teach our chil­dren proper table manners most of the time at the table, and then are sloppy ourselves ‘when no one watches’, we haven’t taught proper table manners. We have taught them that proper table manners include ‘proper ways’ when some­one watches and ‘sloppy ways’ when no one watches. The indi­rect ‘sloppy’ part is just as much a teaching/​learning expe­ri­ence for our chil­dren as our ‘direct’ teach­ing expe­ri­ence of proper manners.

The conse­quence of this is: Any time you want to teach some­one some­thing, there will be a ‘super­fi­cial’ lesson at face value, but there will also be a deeper, far more valu­able and last­ing direct expe­ri­ence ‘in the back­ground’.

That is what you must be mind­ful about!

/​Finno

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