What to Teach Children

This afternoon, I was sitting on the bus on my way downtown when I overheard 2 friends talking. They looked a bit younger than me (probably 19-21 years old) and their conversation drifted from one topic from another as they shared details about their lives. At one point, one friend talked about her experience of working at a summer camps for kids. She noticed that some children are more temperamental than others, especially when they’re told that they cannot do something that they want. She looks determined as she says, “When I have kids, I’m definitely going to tell them ‘no’ sometimes. They can’t always have everything they want in life.” I smiled when I heard that, it’s a good lesson to teach kids.

I arrive downtown. I’m going to a workshop about communication in relationships. During the workshop, we brainstormed effective conflict resolution strategies: listening, empathy, being willing to compromise, taking responsibility for one’s own actions, as well as ineffective ones: shutting down the other person/ yourself, shouting, becoming abusive. The facilitator then asked, “so how do we first learn about these conflict resolution strategies?” to which she answered “much of this comes from our care providers when we’re young, they’re the ones that model conflict resolution. And of course, not everyone was exposed to people who demonstrated strong problem solving skills in relationships, so sometimes, we need to re-learn it as adults.”

On the way home, my thoughts drifted back to the topic of whether or not I should study to work as doctor. You see, despite my previous blog post and several conversations I’ve had with friends where I sounded pretty convinced that I want to continue with dietetics, I still haven’t withdrawn from my MCAT test. There’s still reluctance, a part of me wants to hold on to the possibility that I could still take it and see where it goes… As these thoughts float through my consciousness for what feels like the zillionth time within the last 3 weeks, I look out the bus window and I remember a HONY portrait my friend shared a few days ago. Here’s the story: “At the end of my senior year, I took some advanced level entry exams from Cambridge University. They are very difficult and very important. When the exam scores came in, my friend called me and told me that the principal was looking for me. My father was sitting next to me. He saw my face and asked me what was wrong. ‘I think I did very poorly,’ I told him. ‘Because the principal is looking for me.’ He told me that he would come to her office with me to support me. When we got there, there was a huge line of students waiting to get their scores, but the principal called me in. She told me I was one of three students in the school to get all A’s. My father was so nervous when I came out, and when I told him, he hugged me so hard that I could tell he was trying not to cry. He was so happy, he took all the money out of his wallet, handed it to the security guard, and told him to pass it out to everyone in line. It was the happiest moment of my life.” Many of the commenters remarked how wonderful it was that his father’s response to this news is to give away money. Perhaps it is a cultural practice (he is from India), but regardless, a gesture that would likely be appreciated by people around the world. Then it clicked in my head. Life isn’t about what we get, it’s about what we can give. Much of my motivation for wanting to be a doctor came from what I thought I could get from the profession: job security, higher income, easier opportunities to work abroad & in public health. But I had a much harder time thinking of things that I would be excited to give as a doctor (hint: I’m not nearly as excited about giving drug prescriptions, diagnosis of disease, or lab requisition forms. And I sincerely hope that most doctors have a different perspective). Sure, I think I’m (mostly) responsible, hardworking, I’m good at memorizing facts, I like human physiology, and I’m at least okay when interacting with people. But I’m so much more inclined to give my passion for food and for nutrition, and I feel like I have so much more to offer in these areas! In that instant (and as I’m re-telling this story), I realized that what I want to give generously to the world was not my services as a medical doctor, it is my passion for food and for nutrition. I felt a warm glow in my chest as my heart expanded (much like the heart of the Grinch on Christmas morning) and I basked in the satisfaction of finding this nugget of gold, this belief that I’ll use for the rest of my life to help guide my decisions and motivate me when the going gets tough. 

What did my parents teach me as a child? If you ask me this, the first things that come to mind would be my dad quizzing me about the multiplication table during his lunch break from work, or my mom’s anatomical drawings of penile-vaginal sex. Funny how these are the pieces of information that I associate with “things my parents taught me”. But embedded in those conversations and in the countless moments that my parents spent with me were communication skills, values, and attitudes which profoundly impact who I am as a person, and that’s far more important than the information.

So what do I want to model to children?

  1. How to appropriately handle dissatisfaction: I don’t always get what I asked for, but I can effectively negotiate and make the best of what I have.
  2. Good relationship and conflict resolution skills: listen actively, empathize, take responsibility for my own actions, say what I mean, and compromise in a way that doesn’t compromise myself.
  3. Give generously, in the best way that I possibly can, to enrich the lives of others.

Like K’naan says:

Nothing is perfect man, that’s what the world is
All I know is I’m enjoying today
You know ’cause it isn’t every day that you get to give



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