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:
- 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.
- 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.