I am not a computer scientist, but I have written a few basic programs over the years. I used to comment to people that programming was fulfilling because a computer would do exactly what I told it to do, no matter how right or wrong. I would then proceed to contrast this to my children and how they respond to my instructions. As I’ve mentioned before, sometimes when talking to my kids I feel like I suddenly am speaking in Mandarin Chinese or Martian. They look at me as though I am making no sense at all.
There was a time when I’d choose programming any day. If I chose my words and phrases carefully, the computer “understood” what I wanted and would carry out those instructions.
However as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized two things. First, in programming you have to choose precisely the correct word and syntax in order for the computer to follow instructions. With our children we are often content to vaguely wave in a direction and tell them to “Get that thing over there.” Not only are we careless with choosing what we say and how we say it, we then are amazed and become impatient when they do not successfully comply.
The second is closely related to the first. When our children do learn something, they have the ability to take that knowledge to the next level by adding other learning, experience or even intuition. While we expect them to make the logical jump to that vague “thing” we meant, we sometimes forget that they can take what we said and improve on it as well.
It’s hard as a parent, particularly when things are busy and chaotic to remember this. It is a natural impulse to demand that a child, “Just listen!” However, it is we who should listen as well. My kids, as it turns out, are actually pretty smart and even though I have a many-years head start on them, I can learn from them just as well as they can learn from me. Best of all we both benefit.
It just might be better to have a conversation with my children instead of merely trying to lecture them. Not only will it be more productive, it’ll probably be more fun.