Lesson #3:  Your Child is a Blank Slate

There are a few things that your child will have to master on his own, like learning how to make a tight seal around Mom’s nipple to better nurse.  Or learning how to hold his head steady when he’s about a month old.  And figuring out how to grasp objects in his tiny hands.

But almost everything else will be learned from you, Mom and others, and you have to be careful not to fall into the trap of thinking that he naturally understands how to do the simplest things.  To your child, events and activities are akin to individual photos that they’ve placed on the vellum board inside their head.  One of your primary jobs is to help him learn to connect the photos so that they develop coherency, a context in which to grow and learn to think. 

Children learn in different ways.  And as they grow and develop you’ll have to learn to use those different ways of teaching.  First, just doing the basic things time and again so that they learn as they watch – and they will watch.  Later, helping them and explaining as you demonstrate.  Later still, letting them do something as you stand nearby.  There are no hard and fast rules as to which is best for a particular child or situation, so be patient with him.  And yourself.

One of the adjustments that I had to make was to learn to build additional time into the schedule of daily life.  Time to account for the childhood stuff that comes up – squabbles, bumps and cuts, questions, fears and play.  Several years ago, I built concrete steps and a walkway out front.  Obviously, there was a schedule but I didn’t account for the fact that one of my children wanted to help, and in a very material way.  It is one of my great regrets that in the effort to accomplish the job, I did a poor job of allowing him to contribute and was at times unnecessarily brusque. 

And I’ve had to learn to routinely ask them, especially after a new situation:  What did you notice?  What happened?  Do you understand what occurred?  And even if they say that they do, I ask them to explain what they saw just to make sure.  It’s not uncommon to find that while they can describe what they saw, they don’t understand the meaning.

And finally, understand that they learn simply by watching you.  Which means that if you do a good job of biting your tongue and maintaining your temper, they’ll never notice; but they will notice the times that things slip.  So when your preschooler turns the corner into the next supermarket aisle and exclaims "what the hell is that?" , then you need to be careful when you ask where he learned the language.

 Because unlike an Etch-a-Sketch, there’s no erasing this slate.


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