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!