Like many other areas, children prefer people who are “like them” when it comes to learning. But what kind of similarity is relevant? It’s actually not sex (though some research would suggest it’s possible), but shared preferences that guides children’s preference to learn. And this shouldn’t be too surprising as we are more likely to see someone who shares a preference as being knowledgeable in other areas which might interest us.
This is why children prefer to learn play from other children, or toy functions. Of course, we can use this to our advantage in that if we can join in on our children’s interests, we become a greater source of knowledge for them. They feel that they can turn to us more. When we think of children who distance themselves from their parents, it’s often (anecdotally) reported that they just don’t “get” them or share any interests.
So if you want your children to look to you, you have to make them want to by showing that you can share interests.
Take Home Message
Accuracy is huge to children in deciding from whom to learn – at all ages – but when it comes to passing on ideals or more negative views of others, accuracy is very hard to define. This is why we can see the transmission of these values within families and across generations. And when we factor in influences like similarity (which often occurs within a family), confidence (which is very apparent when speaking of opinions disguised as facts), and familiarity (again, very clear in a family setting), we can see how easy it is for children to pick up on ideas that are not only false, but damaging to those they will come into contact with. Racism, sexism, misogyny are all examples of ideas that are so easily spread between generations thanks to these learning heuristics we’ve evolved with.
The heuristics our children have evolved to use when learning information from others can be wonderful and help them navigate the world. However, they can also lead to the transmission of information and views that are detrimental. Hopefully, we can use this information about heuristics to fight the negative in our society.
We need teachers and friends and neighbours to know that they can become familiar, similar, and confident when they share information that contradicts the negative children may hear from those at home or from friends.
In the end, we are teaching our children a lot. It just may be in ways we don’t intend, so we must be aware of that to ensure we pass on the information we want, and not what we don’t.
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Originally published here.
Tracy Cassels, PhD is the Director of Evolutionary Parenting, a science-based, attachment-oriented resource for families on a variety of parenting issues. In addition to her online resources, she offers one-on-one support to families around the world and is regularly asked to speak on a variety of issues from sleep to tantrums at conferences and in the media. She lives in Prince Edward County, Ontario, Canada with her husband and two children.