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Laura and the Silveware
A Case in Successful Modeling -

by S.Hein

The first time I saw Laura, a 15 month old in Quebec, she was sitting alone on the floor with a big smile on her face. Her bright blue-grey eyes seemed to reach across the room and touch me to my core. Later that day I saw her standing next to the dishwasher, holding herself up with one hand and pulling the silverware out of its tray and dropping it to the floor. I walked over and picked up one piece, then another and returned them to the tray. Suddenly I had a fear that she might think this is a game and drop some more on the ground. My fear lead me to think quickly and creatively so as to avoid such a frustrating cycle. So after I put the first two pieces in the silverware container, I handed her the next piece hoping she would model me. And she did!!

I was so excited with the result of my experiment I could have lept with joy. I had no way to predict what she would do, of course, and when I saw her put that spoon in the silverware tray I felt all of my beliefs about the children instantly affirmed. To say I felt bursting with encouragement comes close to describing my feeling at what was for me a momentous occasion. Wanting to show approval and appreciation without exaggerating it in order to manipulate her in the future, as my mother would do with us to control our behavior, I simply said, "merci" and picked a knife off of the floor and handed it to her. Again she carefully put it away. I said "Merci" again and this time she smiled!

Those were the only words I spoke to her. I was amazed at how this process worked. Later, I thought of all the things I could have done. I could have said "No, don't drop those on the floor." I could have said, "Don't touch." Or, "The silverware goes in the tray, not on the floor".

I could have smacked her hand. I could have picked her up and moved her away. I could have threatened her: "If you drop one more thing on the floor..."

Part of my silence was due to my limited ability to speak French. But I had already learned with other children how much could be communicated without words.

I also knew that she didn't need a lecture, a threat, a punishment or a scolding. Instead what she needed was modeling and, perhaps more importantly, trust.

I don't know when an infant is first capable of feeling the emotion of being trusted, but I suspect that this was what Laura felt at the moment I handed her the first knife. I suspect she also felt proud of herself, successful, helpful, approved of and appreciated. I also suspect that later if I wanted Laura's help with something, even something she didn't want to do, she would be much more cooperative.

Isn't this the kind of relationship we want? Not only parents and children, but between all of us in the world?

S. Hein
July 2001

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