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Learning Through Experience

by Michael Bracken

Not long ago I ran into some family friends at the concession stand of a cluster theater. We exchanged pleasantries for a moment, then I asked,

"Where's your son?"

"Oh, we never bring him to the show. He won't sit still, was the response."

I thought of my wife sitting inside theater three with both our sons. I asked, "Have you ever tried?"

"Not yet. We're waiting until he gets a little older before we try something like this."

When they returned to theater one and I returned to my seat with a box of popcorn and three sodas, I looked at my own kids quietly awaiting the start of the movie. Ryan, four years old, has been regularly attending movies since he was a month old. Ian, at three months, was attending his fifth movie.

Since that night I've discovered other parents like the ones I met at the concession stand; parents who expect their children to reach a magical age and suddenly acquire all the social grace of an adult. They dont seem to realize that it doesn't happen overnight. These are the people who often ask how our children manage to sit through two-hour movies at walk-in theaters (and sometimes even the triple feature at the drive-in).

It's because our children go where we go. If my wife and I go to the movies, my oldest son brings along a booster seat. At restaurants he asks to see a menu before he orders--even though he can't read it yet. Because our children are often with us, our entertainment choices are sometimes limited. Nightclubs and certain movies are out; high society gatherings and business-type meetings are often avoided because children aren't welcome. But almost everything else is open to us. Ryan has been to weddings and funerals, movies and plays, restaurants and fast-food joints, churches and parties. He's learned that each place or event requires a different type of behavior, and we've tried to teach our sons what behavior is appropriate at each place.

Taking our children out with us when they were quite young was helpful. When Ryan was two, we went to dinner with married friends and their son, also two. While Ryan ate his dinner, the other boy was running around the chairs and crawling under the table. At two, Ryan had been to restaurants many times, but for the other boy this was only his second restaurant visit.

Not having had the opportunity to experience different things, our sons might have turned out like the two-year-old son of one of our friends, whose mother is afraid to even take him to the grocery store because he acts up. Instead, she shops alone, or sends her husband shopping.

The five-month-old son of another friend spends his life shuttling back and forth between his parents' home and his grandmother's home. While his parents dine out, go to the spa, shop, and see movies, he spends his time experiencing the inside of his crib. It must be tedious, and certainly he's off to a slow start in experiencing the things in life that may later be important to him.

What our sons are learning are social skills, as well as information they will be able to use in the years ahead. I hope the exposure to many different situations will prepare our sons for anything life might offer.

I don't want to say that my children are angels. They aren't. But because my wife and I take them with us, they have the opportunity to see how other people act; they have the opportunity to learn what behavior is appropriate where; and they learn when it's ok to run and shout and when it isn't.

And because they've learned some of these social skills, my sons are more enjoyable to be with. I don't have to chase Ryan down the aisle at the theater; that can wait for our next visit to the park, where we can both enjoy it.

Copyright © 1986 Michael Bracken
All rights reserved.

This article first appeared in Mothering Magazine. You can find them on the Web at www.mothering.com

The on-line magazine for men with families.

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