Sometimes we need to pay attention to the fundamentals. Often, in fact, too often, we search for the complex or ultra-new insight into life when we would be served best by looking at the simple things. Today, I want to turn to the simple teachers.
The Lid as Teacher
If you place fleas in a jar without a lid on the jar, they bounce around a bit and, within minutes, find their way out. However, put a lid on the jar, and you hear the tiny fleas bumping into the lid of the jar, a whole bunch of tiny ‘ding…ding…ding.’
However, leave them there for a while, and there is soon silence. The fleas are active, jumping away…but never hitting the jar lid. Those tiny flea brains fleas quickly become conditioned to jump no higher than the lid. Even the flea brain becomes a learning machine.
Why? Because the lid of the jar is clear about the limits and creates a rather painful consequence (we can assume). It never moves and is relentless in its feedback. It’s as if the lid were saying, ‘Don’t jump that high!’ And then, the fleas get it.
Here’s where it gets fascinating: given some time, you can take the lid off the jar, and the fleas continue to jump ‘as if’ the lid was still there. The learned consequence stays with the flea brain, and they honor the limit the lid sets. You can see a short video demonstrating this on YouTube by searching for ‘fleas in a jar experiment.’ Fascinating to see this in real-time.
Why the interest in flea behavior? Before explaining, here’s another simple example of life’s principles in action.
The Wall as Teacher
Imagine that you are visiting your child at school. Envision yourself standing in the hallway as hordes of children walk by. Let’s pretend the kids are all ages, from kindergarten all the way up to high school, who vary in abilities. Some are brilliant, some are average, and some are below average. Some may have disabilities. Some may be clumsy. Some are gifted athletes. Some will end up playing video games in the basement at 28. Some will go to work in the family business. Some will attend a community college, and some will attend an Ivy League school. But all these children have one thing in common: you will not see any of them running into the wall.
We do not consider this, but all the children greatly respect the wall. They do not test the wall, however clumsy or distractible they are. Why? Because the wall has always been consistent and predictable. When they were very little and began to test the wall by running into it, they found that the wall always remained firm. If they had a cold or stayed up late, or were just in a bad mood and were not paying good attention, the wall never cut them a break. The wall always said, “Here I am.” Depending on the child, they may have experienced discomfort when bumping into the wall. You can imagine toddlers trying to understand why the wall was always tough on them.
And yet the wall was never angry. The wall never laid ‘its emotional baggage’ upon them. The wall never got upset or frustrated or lectured to the child who was testing it. Some of your children tested the wall repeatedly, at least for a while. Eventually, every single child understands that the wall is serious. Every child understands where the limits are. Every child has respect for the wall and stops testing it.
Conclusion: All Brains Learn Easily with Clear and Consistent Consequences.
Mom & Dad as Teacher
There is much for Mom and Dad to learn from these lessons above. But the primary lesson is clear:
Consistent Limits Are Fundamental to Teaching the Life’s Key Lessons
The tiny flea brain may not learn instantly, but it still learns quickly when bumping up against a clear limit (i.e., the lid). The wall is also an excellent teacher. Both bring home the relationship between choice and consequence and do it consistently. Thus, if a choice in life will bring discomfort or struggle for your child, we want that brain to get the lesson quickly and early if possible.
And we don’t want to overthink this and try to ignore how the world works. It is experiential learning that teaches quickly and rapidly. Not talk lessons about reality. We tend to over-protect and try to keep our children from feeling any discomfort, yet the discomfort from bad choices often serves to teach quickly and effectively.
It is the choice, then the consequence, that teachers. Not some lecture or well-meaning warning about what will happen next time.
And then, the consistency of that simple lesson, over time, allows the brain to get it. So, keep it simple—clear limits with consistent consequences. Your children will learn and learn beautifully and quickly. Yes, a bit of discomfort-but it is short and sweet. And much better than years of nagging, yelling, and upsets.
Interestingly, the principle through which Neurofeedback and other biofeedback technologies work utilizes the same process. Immediate feedback and consistency re-train the brain over time. To learn more about how this technology aligns with healthy parenting practices, check out our information at CaptialDistrictNeurofeedback.com.