Tell Me, Don’t Show Me?

Today I learned something new about myself from watching my son.

We were at the playground, and he wanted to swing. This playground had the flexible seat swings instead of the firm plastic ones. No biggie, I thought. I figured he would get on it himself just fine.

I watch my son. Sometimes he would grab on the chains but not move back into the seat. Sometimes he would move back into the seat but not grab the chains. I tried telling him how to do it, but he’s not there with it.

So I decide to show my son how to get on the swing. I move to the swing next to him, grab the chains, and line up my butt to move back into the seat. I ask him to watch how I do it.

“No” he replied, refusing to even look my way.

“Just take a moment and watch” I plead, getting frustrated by his refusal to do something so simple as to be shown.

“No, Daddy, I don’t want to.” he said firmly.

Why would he refuse to even watch? Why would he refuse help while he stands there and struggles with what he wants to do?

I thought about this as a strange behavior at first. It defied initial reason, so I started to consider it from his perspective.

That’s when I mentally tripped right on myself. I do this behavior. Even if he didn’t learn it from me, it’s definitely something I do as well:

I prefer to be told rather than shown how to do something.

This inverts expectations about teaching and learning for me.

Initially, I thought not wanting to be shown how to do things was about my own ego. Sometimes I feel so capable of understanding what someone is saying clearly, I think I shouldn’t need any other input for understanding. Sometimes if someone starts with showing me how to do something, my ego is hurt because they think me insufficiently capable of understanding them.

Another, more positive and likely perspective, is I am primarily an aural or verbal learner than a visual learner. It makes sense with how I absorb books and audiobooks, yet have a difficult time engaging with video content. I process my thoughts as words, which is great for writing and the spoken word, but less ideal for visual presentation.

Somewhere along the path, probably as I was taught how to instruct to adult learners and had to lean into visual presentations, demonstrations, and a new default of showing, not telling. These are assumptions often made about adult learners who have not been in formal education for some time. It’s also the wrong way to instruct me, and appears now to be the wrong way to instruct my son.

In either case, I am the mistaken one, and I am getting in my own way of effective learning, understanding, and even teaching to some audiences. Rather than get frustrated by people wanting to show me how to do something, I should be communicating my needs on how best to teach me, and be mindful of it when it’s time for me to instruct others.

I’m going to give my son a break and try to do as much as I can by telling him. That’s how he’s preferring to learn right now, and it will probably be better for us to use our most common forms of communication as we learn more about each other together.

Author: Alex Cox

(He/Him) I am a writer, engineer, leader, and advocate for personal growth, universal harmony, and environmental reform. I believe in open, ethical, and effective government, business, and society, working for everyone's benefit. I bring unique perspectives from my diverse cultural heritage, prior law enforcement experience, and incredible technology career, to projects and creative works.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: