Learning All the Time

This week’s post is by featured contributor Esther Schiedel. We hope that you enjoy it and, as always, we look forward to future posts by Esther.

Several years ago, when I was in graduate school, I attended a training about using the university’s online distance learning resources. This was in the early days of using the internet for college classes, so the computer literacy level of professors and teaching assistants in fields other than computer science was pretty low. What impressed me was the obvious discomfort displayed by many of those in attendance–discomfort at having to learn something new. Here were people who dedicated their lives to teaching and research and they were resistant to learning!

Of course, I am always open to learning new things—except when I get completely flustered and frustrated when attempting to do something, especially on a computer or a smart phone.

Why is learning so uncomfortable at times?

Here are some factors that make it so for me:

When I’m pressed for time

When I’m not really interested but am forced to learn something in order to do what I want to do

When learning something new involves having to unlearn certain attitudes and habitual responses

When there is a lot to learn but I can only absorb a small amount at one time

Having to learn also reveals my weaknesses. I want to appear smart and competent—not ignorant and needing help. Even when no one is looking!

Looking back on my childhood and schooling I realize that many times I was praised for knowing something—not for learning something. Some things came easy to me as a child—that felt good and I got praised for it. But when I couldn’t figure out something easily, I often got upset and decided I didn’t like that subject or activity. In doing so I missed out on opportunities to learn how to learn.

Ellen Galinsky, author of Mind in the Making writes, “My own study of parental development has shown that we—as parents—grow and change when we have an expectation of ourselves, of our children, of the world, that doesn’t fit with reality (such as ‘I am never going to yell at my kids, I am always going to be patient and kind’). Then either we stay stuck and get upset or angry or we grow—by changing our behavior to live up to our expectations or by creating more realistic expectations.”

In other words, as parents, we need to learn.  To learn different ways to behave. To learn what to expect from ourselves and our children. We need to keep learning all the time because our children keep growing and changing.

We may be used to feeling competent and to being in charge. We may think we need to be the expert and know it all. We may see asking for help as a sign of weakness or incompetence. Like those professors, we may be uncomfortable with learning something new.

What can help us? Realizing that learning—that being willing to learn—is the true sign of intelligence and competence. I heard the astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson explain that when he got an answer wrong, instead of feeling silly or ashamed he welcomed it as an opportunity to learn something new.

We grow by being willing to learn. We can learn by examining our expectations and the reality of our lives. We can learn by gathering more information and considering different perspectives. We can learn by trying new approaches to old problems. We can learn other parents, from books, from classes, and from our children.

Esther Schiedel is parent to three adults, grandparent to three boys, and a Certified Family Life Educator. She provides parenting education through classes and workshops through LBCC and through her business, Sharing Strengths. She became interested in parenting education when she became a parent and had a need for more information and support.

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