How Children Learn

This morning my daughter brought her baby doll to me and instructed me on how I needed to care for beloved doll.  Be careful, mommy, she said, she is little.  Make sure you hug her if she cries and always have extra food in your bag if she gets hungry.  It was an ordinary moment in an ordinary morning, but it was the kind of ordinary moment that reminded me of the powerful example we set for our children in the everyday details of everyday life.

What is most important to you as a parent?

What do you want to teach your child?

How do you want your kids to remember you in fifty years?

I think that these are very important question for every parent.  I think about them a lot with my own children.  I wonder, I am teaching them enough about my values and about what I think is most important in this world.  Will they really understand what it means to be a mensch, a person of honor and integrity?

Often it feels like these questions can get lost in the logistics of the day to day. Most of us, most of the time, are floored just by the business of keeping our families on schedule, fed and tucked in at night.  Most of us are juggling work, families, homes, extra-curricular activities and appointments.  Most of the time it does not seem like there are enough hours in the day.  Most of the time we all have a to do list that seems endless.

And when you are raising a special needs child it can sometimes feel like these questions go to the back burner.  Mostly because the daily challenges can be, well, so challenging.  It is normal to feel exhausted and overwhelmed.  It is so easy to want to rush through the hard stuff to get to the end of the day.  It is also easy to despair that the ways in which you thought you might teach your children are more difficult to navigate because of social and emotional needs and learning styles differences.

Truthfully, though, perhaps it is how we manage the day-to-day that will leave the greatest impression on our children.  They are watching us all of the time.  If we are gentle with ourselves and with them we are teaching them to be gentle.  If we are always overwhelmed we are teaching them to be always overwhelmed.  If we respond to challenges with curiosity and perseverance, they will learn that too.  We cannot shield them from their unique struggles or from the painful situations that are a part of all life.  But maybe we can show them how to face it all by the small choices we make every day. These are often the choices that we can concentrate on when life feels out of our control.


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9 Responses to How Children Learn

  1. Arlene H. Johnson, LMFT says:

    Allison, So true that we do teach our children a lot by our actions. It is important to manage our own stress so that we are available for those special moments.

    • Allison says:

      I agree Arlene, in fact it is managing our own stress that helps us appreciates the things our kids teach and show us everyday.
      Warmly, Allison

  2. Hi! I LOVED this blog post! How true this is and how people really dont seem to realize how powerful an influence / imprinting everyday parenting has on the psyche of a child. thanks!

  3. Allison,

    I’ll confess that my initial reaction as I read this was an increase in my heart rate–setting that good example all the time feels like pressure. And then I took a deep breath and reminded myself that if my daily choices and actions show that my kids matter and that I believe in them–I don’t have to do anything magic. Showing up with good intention and attention is what creates the environment that my kids need. Thanks for this.


    • Allison says:

      Hi Anne, Thanks for your comment, it is very helpful because I do not mean at all to increase pressure, exactly the opposite, my idea is just to focus on the small daily interactions when the big things feel overwhelming or out of your control and trust that your kids will learn what is important.
      Granted, often the small stuff is hard and none of us, especially me do it right all the time but there is some magic in the small details. Magic in the effort. Warmly,Allison

  4. Rachelle says:

    Hi Allison,

    I have to say I’m with Ann – sometimes feeling the pressure to be “on” at every moment. I think the flip side is true, too, though – if we as parents are good, fair people, our kids will see that, despite all the less-perfect moments in the day-to-day busy-ness of life.

  5. JoAnn Jordan says:

    No matter their age, our children learn from our example. Thank you for this touching reminder.

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