The Daily Groove

Invisible Teaching

The problem with teaching children explicitly is that we are rarely aware of what we are teaching them implicitly.

For example, if you tell your children to say "thank you," the implicit lesson is that expressing gratitude is something they should do whether they feel like it or not — not something that comes naturally.

Better to say "thank you" yourself — to model the appropriate behavior joyfully. Joy is attractive and, eventually, they'll want in on the fun!

Your child doesn't internalize what you say as much as the energy with which you say it. Pay close attention to how you feel and you'll notice that teaching often carries a subtle vibe that feels "yucky."

So when you must teach explicitly, clean up your energy first. Otherwise you might be teaching the wrong lesson!

When you teach by example, you are following the advice of Gandhi who said, "you must BE the change you wish to see..."

Comments (closed)

Re: Invisible Teaching

I know this is silly - Do I stop emphasizing what is important? He's been using them (please, thank you, you're welcome, excuse me) intermittently.

I'm looking at making sure I model them all correctly and he will follow. I repeat what I would like him to ask instead of what he is asking. I know it works, it's just ... the rest of the world we live in.

I am trying to counter the effects of Grandpa using 'ahem ahem' to get what he wants from my son (for a week, very effective, my son uses it all the time now). Only in my son it comes out very differently. (and Grandpa will be visiting in a couple of weeks - how do I gently break it to him that his grandson has picked up a bad habit from him - don't do it anymore? He doesn't take to criticism at all).

So I am trying to emphasize using please and thank you and using the question rather than the easy 'ahem ahem' to ask for what he wants. I really think it's a severe delay for my son - and a learning experience for me I didn't really want to go through.


Re: Invisible Teaching

Lizzie... The solution to your problem is already in what I wrote above. Remember that the example of learning niceties like saying "thank you" is just that: an example to illustrate how children learn through modeling, whether it's intentional or not.

Modeling "thank you" is very different from asking him to say "thank you." When you ask, you invisibly teach him that he can't figure it out on his own. We don't ask 9-month-old babies to practice standing and walking because we know they'll figure it out on their own by following the models all around them. They see that people stand and walk — that's just what humans do — and their whole existence is focused on realizing their human potential.

If your son sees that his parents — whom he loves more than anyone and wants most to be like — say things like please and thank you, he will naturally emulate your behavior. The more enthusiastically you embrace your authentic inner power (in general), the more readily he will follow your model.

With Grandpa, the solution is to model modeling instead of asking him to stop "ahem-ing." In other words, let him see that you trust your son to learn by example. He probably won't get it right away, but you don't need him to get it at all, because your son is far more influenced by you than by him.

Re: Invisible Teaching

This is such a good question. The one that grates on me personally is "say 'I'm sorry.'" Who wants a coerced apology? Not me! And I don't want 'I'm sorry' to mean "words my mom makes me say when she thinks I should be sorry." :-) for politeness, I think it's perfectly acceptable and people take it in kind and move on immediately to just say thank you when someone else is expecting it (ie, grandpa). "Brought you a present, Sonny, ehem ehem." Mom: "Thanks, Dad, that is my son's favorite color! He'll love playing with it!" Dad's been thanked, you've modeled, child has not been coerced, everyone's happy :-)

Re: Invisible Teaching

This hits a chord with me as it is something I struggle with. Alfie Kohn says that sometimes, a child needs to recognize that saying please and thank you is about the other person, and that the child at a certain point needs to learn about inductive, or 'other-oriented' reasoning. He writes about saying these 'magic words': "even if I don't care about such things, other people do. There's a cost to flouting social convention, and refusing on principle to be polite is not where I want to make my stand. More to the point, I don't want to make this stand at my children's expense. The reality is that they'll be judged and found wanting if they fail to sprinkle their conversations with the obligatory social niceties." He talks about how you can emphasize to your child how saying these words makes other people feel good, rather than as politeness for its own sake. I try and teach my kids that Grandma likes it when we say thank you for the meal she cooked, and it makes her feel good, and that's a good reason to say thank you. Of course, I do slip into old habits..("now what do you say?" when someone compliments my kids) but I am trying hard to break these kneejerk responses.