Sometimes we just need to pay attention to the fundamentals. Often, in fact too often, we search for the complex or ultra-new insight into life when we would be served best by looking at the simple things. Today, I want to turn to the simple teachers.

The Lid as Teacher

If you place fleas in a jar, without a lid on the jar…they will quickly jump out. However, put a lid on the jar, and you hear lots of little fleas bumping into the lid of the jar…a whole bunch of tiny ding…ding…ding. However, leave them there a while, and there is soon silence. The fleas are active, jumping away…but never hitting the lid of the jar. Those tiny flea brains fleas quickly become conditioned to jump no higher than the lid. Even the flea brain becomes a learning machine.

Why? Because the lid of the jar is clear about the limits and create a rather painful consequence (we can assume). It never moves and is relentless in its feedback. It’s as if the lid were saying, ‘Don’t jump that high!’ And then, the fleas get it.

Here’s where it gets very interesting: given some time, you can take the lid of the jar off, and the fleas continue to jump ‘as if’ the lid was still there. The learned consequence stays with the flea brain, and they honor the limit set by the lid.

The Wall as Teacher

Imagine that you’re visiting your child at school. Envision yourself standing in the hallway as hordes of children walk by. Let’s pretend the kids are all ages, from kindergarten all the way up to high school, who vary in abilities. Some are brilliant, some are average, and some are below average. Some may have disabilities. Some may be clumsy. Some are gifted athletes. Some will end up playing video games in the basement at 28. Some will go to work in the family business. Some will go to a community college, and some will go to an Ivy League school. But all these children have one thing in common: you will not see any of them running into the wall.

We don’t consider this, but all the children have a great respect for the wall. They do not test the wall, however clumsy or distractible they are. Why? Because the wall has always been consistent and predictable. When they were very little and began to test the wall by running into it, they found that the wall always remained firm. If they had a cold or stayed up late or were just in a bad mood and weren’t paying attention, the wall never cut them a break. The wall always said, “Here I am.” Depending upon the child, they may have experienced some discomfort when they bumped into the wall. You can imagine toddlers trying to understand why the wall was always so tough on them.

And yet the wall was never angry. The wall never laid ‘it’s emotional baggage’ upon them. The wall never got upset or frustrated or lectured the child who was testing it. Some of your children tested the wall repeatedly. Eventually, every single child understands that the wall means business. Every child understands where the limits are. Every child has respect for the wall and stops testing it.

Mom & Dad as Teacher

There is much for Mom and Dad to learn from these lessons above. But the primary lesson is clear:

Consistent Limits Are Fundamental to Teaching the Rules of Reality

The small flea brain may not learn instantly, but it still learns quickly…when bumping up against a clear limit (i.e., the lid). The wall is also an excellent teacher. Both bring home the relationship between choice and consequence, and do it consistently. Thus, a choice in life will bring discomfort or struggle for you child, we want that small brain to quickly get the lesson and early if possible.

And we don’t want to overthink this and try to ignore how the world works. It is experiential learning that teaches quickly and rapidly. Not talk lessons about reality.

It’s the choice, then consequence that teachers. And then, the consistency of that relationship over time that allows the brain to get it. So, keep is simple. Clear limits, with consistent consequences. Your children will learn and learn beautifully and quickly. Yes, a bit of pain…but it’s short and sweet. Much better than years of nagging, yelling and upsets.