Did You Teach Her That?

Post written by ZFH contributor Baker. Follow him on Twitter.

Courtney and I do our best to encourage our daughter Milligan to be independent.

Sure, she’s only 20 months old.  But as a blossoming toddler she continues to impresses us with her ability to model not only us, but others as well.

For example, if it is at all possible we encourage her to walk along side of us when we go out.  This include through the lobby of our apartment and in and out of the elevators it takes to get down to the street below.

Like many apartment complexes, we have a simple keycard that we are required to swipe at the two different elevators.  It didn’t take long for Milligan to pick up on the process and volunteer (read: demand violently) to have the responsibility of swiping the card at the readers.

After a week or so at her new role, Milligan picked up that the next step was to select the floor.  She’s now discerned that after swiping the card, she needs to select a specific button relative to which elevator we are on (even though she can only reach the correct button on one of the elevators).

Like any parents at this stage, Courtney and I reminisced on the amazing ability of young minds to quickly pick up on routines through modeling.

But we were surprised by the next addition to Milligan’s elevator process.  Just recently, after swiping and pressing the floor button, she immediately reached for another button:  the close door button.

You know the one I’m talking about.  The button you press 3 or 4 times in rapid succession in an attempt to eliminate the half a second of natural lag for the elevator to shut it’s doors.  The one people in a hurry will jam as hard as they can until the doors close.

“Did you teach her that?”

“No… did you?”

Who in the world was teaching Milli that saving a precious second of wait time while in the elevator was a valuable part of the routine?  After all, just think of all the things we can do with that extra second.

Slow down, little one.  Take your time!

While the example above would hardly be consider harmful.  It did get us brainstorming about the role others have in modeling for children as the develop.

Milligan’s a sponge, right now.  She’s constantly watching, learning, evaluating, and testing.  While Courtney and I have the biggest influence on her habits and development, we’d be silly to think others aren’t starting to play a big role as well.

While this is the first time for us to go through this experience, many of you must have become experts by now.  I can imagine this phenomenon only gets stronger as the child gets older and older.

At this point in our young parental journey, we can see two clear options:

  1. We could try to minimize the amount of external influence.  Parents do this all the time.  No, you can’t play with those friends.  No, you can’t go to prom, date older guys, watch television, drink Coke, or attend that R-rated movie.  This type of parenting is effective for setting basic boundaries and expectations.  But we all know situations, where it’s taken too far.  Even at 20-months, it’s impossible for us to maintain control over everything that enters and influences Milligan.
  2. We can employ “Look, Mommy and Daddy do it/don’t do it” strategy.  In other words, we can lead by example.  Look, Mommy and Daddy don’t drink irresponsibly.  Mommy and Daddy exercise regularly (well…).  Mommy and Daddy don’t scream at every minor traffic jam or repeatedly smash a close elevator button to save precious seconds (most of the time).

Ultimately, a balance of the two is a healthy choice.  But even in these first two years, we are realizing the power of the latter.

Obviously, Mommy and Daddy aren’t perfect.  And healthy parameters on negative influences are fantastic.  But in the end, focusing our energy on being a positive influence in our children’s lives (rather than obsessively trying to control the negatives) may benefit more than just the child.

It may help Mommy and Daddy be better, too.

13 Responses to “Did You Teach Her That?”

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  1. jayhawkgirl says:

    Cool anecdote. As an aside there was a New Yorker article last year on elevators and those close door buttons don’t even work. It is just there to give people the illusion of control. The hold doors open button works, but the close door button does nothing.

  2. Kevin M says:

    Baker – I can totally identify with you since my son is just a few months older than Milligan. His big kick now is to sing Christmas songs before we put him to bed. It is amazing the amount of words to multiple songs he remembers.

  3. Neal says:

    I learned a lot from watching my 3 children grow up. Basically, my job is not to get in the way. Act responsibly and loving. The way they learn is a mystery. At least that’s my experience.

  4. What an amazing lesson as we get ready for our little one. I’ve been watching a lot of parents “tell” their kids what to do, how to act, and then excuse their own actions with “well…I’m a grownup.”

    I completely agree that kids learn more by modeling, even sub-consciously than anything we could possibly communicate to them verbally.

  5. Yes, this is very true. I think you are right to model the behavior as you want her to learn it, and trust that she will make the right choices as she grows older. Just last night I took my 12 and 14 year old daughters with me to aquacise class, and afterwards they mentioned how they didn’t like the backbiting and gossiping that was going on between the older ladies! We have worked very hard to teach our children to look for the good in others and not to talk about them behind their backs. I hadn’t even thought about it when I attended the class alone, but the behavior those ladies were modeling was definitely not attractive, and my children were wise enough to recognize it!

  6. I agree with your idea of blending the need to teach by instruction and teaching my example. As the Dad to two young ones (4 year old boy and 2 year old girl), I have to say that much of their actions are ingrained in their natural ways and personalities. At least that’s the best explanation we have for our two children who were raised in a very similar way, but who act completely differently!

  7. Great post! As the kids get older and make mistakes, I find it helpful to ask them, “What have you learned?” rather than trying to tell them “how it is” or what they did wrong.

  8. @ Jayhawkgirl – maybe they should add a “go faster” button for the same reason :)

  9. Teaching our children through our example is more effective than any words we communicate. The words will confirm or be in contradiction to what they already see to be true from our example. I find this scary! At 10,8 & 7 my children have picked up on certain attitudes that I know come from me – I have no one else to blame. I homeschool them even, there’s no school or peers to point the finger at.

    Changing myself is a huge part of parenting.

  10. Jill says:

    We have always encouraged our kids to be independent to the point that our 7 & 9 year olds know basic cooking skills, how to do laundry, how to clean a toilet and how to take care of those younger than them.

    I love that they have always felt secure enough in their family to take chances and know that they had a safe place to land if they fell :)

  11. Zengirl says:

    Learning from 2 kids under 5, I know they are like sponge, they absorb everything around, not only from us the parents, but also other people and kids, TV, and other things they see and watch, good and bad both. It is amazing what our 4 years knows, sometimes he surprises us with ability to see and learn.

    Magical years. Enjoy them.

  12. Vince says:

    Ha, elevators and kids. We have a 6 month old and take him out in his stroller (through the elevator) for a walk almost everyday. I often wonder what a child like that thinks an elevator really is! I mean, it’s this tiny room like a closet that we go into and just sort of stand there for a few minutes, then the door opens and we are someplace else.

    I think when he’s older I’ll tell him it’s a teleportation device. ;) Kidding, sort of.

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