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Teaching Children: Do You Hold Your Kids Back?

teaching children, cognitive science

No training wheels? You didn't know she could do it!

We parents tend to think we’re our kids’ best teacher. But because we live with our little ones day in and out, we might actually not be encouraging them to learn new things at a pace they are capable of.

What their kids know how to do is, well, what they know how to do. Thanksverymuch, moving on!

Enter grandparents (or, if you ask me, babysitters, cousins, older kids).

It’s called a stability bias, writes Dr. Nate Kornell in Psychology Today, and it amounts to this:

We think we’re going to know just as much in the future as we know now. We are very bad at taking into account future learning and future forgetting.

It’s a natural human tendency and parents are no exception. In fact, Kornell confesses that he has a stability bias for his kids’ learning. That is, he underestimates how much his kids can learn if they try something new. This left him with zero confidence that his daughter would learn how to ride a bike without training wheels, something he had tried to teach her for months. To his surprise, after a half an hour with her grandfather, the girls was pedaling her way home.

So why could a grandfather succeed where dad didn’t? Here’s what he thinks:

Maybe because they see my kids as the kids are; I see my kids as who they are now, but my image of them mixes in traces of what they were like six months ago, a year ago, and so on, because for me it’s a continuous thread. Grandparents see kids intermittently, so maybe it’s easier for them to reset their impression of a kid.

I think this stability bias is at play in raising kids overall — we sort of underestimate what kids in general can do until we’re shown otherwise. It’s an old song, but I find that I have totally over-estimated “the right age” at which my eldest could safely and successfully do things. Her younger siblings have benefited greatly from that.

Kornell praises grandparents, but for those of us who don’t have ready access to the more permissive elders, we can still turn our kids loose on babysitters, child-free adults and older kids, the latter of which never ever underestimate the abilities of young ones.

The thing about bias is that we often don’t recognize it in ourselves. Still, I’ll ask: can you think of a time when stability bias had you underestimating your kid?

Photo: akaKath via flickr

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