How do children learn? They learn by watching and imitating. They learn by playing, which is really practicing. They learn almost everything. There is so little human behavior that is not learned. Yes, evolution — whatever the source — miracle of divine intervention, accident of physics — granted us an amazing brain that can learn and adapt at an astonishing rate and with unimaginable complexity. Still, we do have to have exposure to something to learn it. We need to see it, hear it, read it. We can imagine something and learn it but we have to have the basic idea implanted one way or another into our heads.

Your child is learning everything! Did you know that babies learn to smile in response to you. It is called social smiling. Babies first smiles are reflexes to feelings of pleasure but not really signals to you. They learn really early to smile at people because it makes people smile back or longer. They learn by playing with that new found muscle control of their face that it makes you come close. They take their first step in learning that showing happiness brings people to you. Showing happiness makes people happy and makes you happier! Wow, the power I have!

Children learn to show anger and frustration also by watching and playing. If you are patient when you are angry, they learn to manage anger. If they see hostile expressions of anger, they learn to show anger with hostility. If children see hitting in play or worse killing in games, they use more aggression. That was Dr. Albert Bandura’s classic study with Bobo Dolls. (They are blown up dolls the size of a school-age child with sand in the bottom and don’t fall over when you hit them.  I think they went off the market shortly after Bandura’s study was widely discussed. Too bad that hasn’t happened with aggressive video games.)

A troubling fact:  the National Television Violence Study found that 60% of television shows include violent acts in 1998. This was before the advent and popularity of reality TV with unscripted acts of violent language and behavior towards others.

Teach carefully.  ACT Raising Safe Kids