Tigers eating goats

Our book group here in D.C. read "Life of Pi" this month. This is a fantastic book, and one that generated some good, exciting, healthy discussion. I recommend it highly. Some thoughts were brought up that I would like to share here, as I'm interested in what even more people think. The main character of the book is Pi, a boy whose father is a zookeeper. The first part of the book Pi spends most of the time introducing us to his life, including his life among the animals. He describes one scene where his father endeavors to teach him a lesson about these animals that he is so familiar with. Pi's father puts a live goat in with a tiger that has not been fed for 3 days. You can imagine what short work the tiger made of that goat, and everything was witnessed by the small boy, Piscine, and his brother. Pi's mother was outraged, saying that surely Pi's father had scarred his children for life. But Pi's father wanted his children to learn that tigers were not play things, pets, toys to be patted and hugged. They were wild animals, and dangerous. The lesson stuck. So we were discussing this scene in our book group, and the question came up about whether or not the father's lesson was too harsh, if there wasn't a better way to teach this life saving lesson. We discussed it, and then we started talking about lessons we need to teach our children, the hard ones they need to learn, and how we do it. Do we need to make it as graphic as a tiger eating a goat? Are there other, more subtle ways to teach our kids the important lessons of life, or is raw experience the only way? I know that for me, I tend to go towards the raw experience side of things. I have let Jacob burn himself when he was young, after telling him it was hot and not to touch the stove. He hasn't burned himself since. I have let him go and try things out physically, thinking that for sure he would be defeated by something like the diving board at age 2, only to discover that my leniency did not curtail him, but rather let him succeed at something I thought for sure he would fail at. (I know that's bad grammar, a dangling something or other, but I'm trying to write this while keeping an ear out for 2 3 year olds, so cut me some slack, ok?) I think we can verbally warn our kids about lots of different things, but actual visual or tactile experience is what will drive the lesson home. But I could be underestimating how my child learns. And maybe subtle can be just as effective, too. Whatever the answer, I'm just glad that I don't have to teach him using a live goat and a hungry tiger. Although, come to think of it, Jacob would probably think that would be pretty cool! It would most likely be his mother fainting, puking all the way, while he says, "Lookit, Mommy! That's a mean tiger. Grr!"


Anonymous JKS said...

My husband wanted to let our 8 month old crawl off the bed (no frame, just box spring and mattress) to learn by experience.

I told him that if we let her do that she'd get brain damage and then she wouldn't remember the lesson he'd tried to teach. (My real argument was that she was too young to process the lesson and learn).
If they are ready to learn the lesson, sink or swim is a great way to go. Before they are ready they might not learn the lesson and they were hurt for nothing.
Combination. Experiencing real consequences is necessary and effective. But preventing them from making a mistake is often the best way.
I try to go for both.

5/25/2005 01:58:00 PM  
Blogger annegb said...

I'm not sure how I feel about this.

But my dear aunt, who was like a mother to me, said to me once when I was worrying about my grandson falling down the basement stairs, "he'll only do it once." She said it with such a serene tone it made me think.

I still couldn't let him fall down the stairs. We taught him to back down them.

But she had something. The best lessons are those we learn for ourselves. Or maybe not best, maybe just the ones that stick the best.

5/25/2005 02:25:00 PM  
Anonymous Sue M said...

I agree. Personally, when I am ready to teach my child a lesson about not playing in the street, I plan to let her get run over by a car first. I am sure that will REALLY make an impression. Obviously, I'm joking - but my point is - just because children "really learn their lesson" and remember getting hurt, doesn't mean that it's a good way for a caring parent to teach. It's not teaching - it's letting them learn hard lessons through experience - and as they say, experience is a hard teacher.

5/25/2005 02:58:00 PM  
Anonymous Sue M said...

By the way, I loved Life of Pi too - our book club reviewed it last month. Quite controversial really - we had quite a discussion of religion as a crutch...

5/25/2005 03:00:00 PM  
Anonymous Anon said...

It doesn't just have to be your kids getting hurt through experience but perhaps - when old enough as jks pointed out - using other experiences to help build upon the lessons you've told them. For example, maybe on the news one day there's a story about a child who was hit by a car. If your child questions you about this you could always respond by saying that that is why mommy always tells you to look both ways before going into the street. Because mommy loves you so much and never wants to see you get hurt. That way your child isn't getting hurt in the act of learning the lesson but is learning from others. Isn't that what life is about too? Sometimes you hear stories about friends/relatives - for example my uncle who was too pigheaded to ask experts for advice and it cost him the busines he'd built from the ground up. Lesson I learned at age 10 by watching this all happen - know what you're good at and what you're not and never be so prideful that you can't ask for help!

5/25/2005 06:41:00 PM  
Blogger Heather O. said...

Ok, certainly nobody wants to see an 8 month old roll off the bed, or throw their child down the stairs. I taught my child to back down stairs too (he didn't actually fall down them until just recently). Like JKS said, the child has to be able to understand the consequences of an action or experience other than just the horror or trauma of it. I know somebody who lets her children fall in her pool. She's a life guard, so she's comfortable pulling them out, but she says every kid has done it, and every kid only does it once. Then they are much more amenable to the teachings of pool safety.

JKS also said "Preventing them from making a mistake is often the best way." I'm not actually sure that's true. We often learn the most from our mistakes, trying not to repeat them. I think we need to try and keep our children safe, but I think they also need to be able to make their own mistakes, as painful as they are going to be, so that they can also claim their own successes.

5/25/2005 08:57:00 PM  
Blogger Heather O. said...

Also, for the record, I didn't let Jacob get burned BADLY. I told him not to touch something that was hot, and he disobeyed. I let him suffer the consequences, which were not that dire. And he was old enough to know better than to disobey Mommy. I'm not advocating letting your child get third degree burns as an effective teaching tool!

5/25/2005 09:00:00 PM  
Anonymous JKS said...

I think I mean "trying to prevent them from making a mistake" is often the best way. I mean teaching them so they learn a lesson they need to learn. But it is impossible to teach them everything and when they go out on their own they also learn from their successes.
Actually, the tiger & goat story is a method of preventing their OWN mistakes that would cost their life.
Of course I think that incorporating visual, or real observation to show what the danger really is is a great way to teach someone a lesson. Pointing out the employees' of Enron's folly, for instance. Hard to believe that there might be people who didn't learn from that and still have all their retirement money in one stock.
I hope my kids are smart enough to learn from others' mistakes. And I will show them whatever availabe life lessons that are around them.
Showing drivers footage of really bad accidents is the same thing. You try and shock them into the reality of what the risk is.
However, most of the time you don't need to be quite so graphic. You don't need to make kids watch an actual childbirth or show pictures of painful looking STDs. There is plenty to protect your child's MIND from, not just their body.
But, sometimes words just aren't enough. Examples are better. Examples of what they should do. And you can role play bad examples (like stranger danger--they suggest role play types of things).

5/25/2005 09:11:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

JKS: A lot of the people who had their retirement money in Enron stock were Enron employees. The stock was given to them as part of their benefits package and contained restrictions that kept them from selling it.

Cut the victims a little bit of slack, will ya!

5/26/2005 11:07:00 AM  
Anonymous JKS said...

No, Enron employees were given the choice of employer matching in their deferred compensation package, or were given stock option deals. Employer matching for Enron stock was higher than for their other investment options.
Diversification is one of the most important elements in investing successfully. No one HAD to put their own 401K contributions into Enron stock.
Enron employees who had all their money in Enron stock made a choice. It seemed like a better choice--higher return. But it was much, much riskier.
Their mistakes were made in ignorance (I can only assume)......which is exactly why other people can learn from that mistake.
"Don't put all your eggs in one basket." I will CERTAINLY teach my children how this applies to investing for their future. And if I have to show them the goats and tigers of the Enron situation, I will. I'd rather them learn from someone else's mistake, than be slaughtered by their own Enron tiger.
However, it is impossible to know EVERY tiger that your child will encounter. You can't predict what will happen down the road. So you can never fully protect them from all tigers.

5/26/2005 04:29:00 PM  
Anonymous JKS said...

Left out "in non Enron stock":
Employer matching for Enron stock was higher than for their other investment options in non Enron stock.

5/26/2005 04:31:00 PM  
Blogger annegb said...

This may seem a little bit off the subject, but it's my experience. Because I lost my first child, and because life had been hard for me as a child, I was quite protective and controlling of my second son.

What happened as a result of this is that my son did not learn resilience and courage in facing life, and when the chips were down, he committed suicide. It's a lot more complicated than that, of course, but I know that was one big mistake I made.

I don't think I was wrong teaching Maxwell to go backward down the stairs, but my fear taught my son to be fearful.

I think that is one of the reasons God created Dads. A broken arm never killed anybody, but a broken spirit, different story.

5/27/2005 12:12:00 PM  
Anonymous JKS said...

I really struggle with how to balance the two sides....hand holding and protecting and helping make their path easier vs. sink or swim, letting them figure things out for themselves, learning from failures and successes and gaining the confidence they need to become independent.
Somewhere in the middle is good, but it is often hard to step back and be objective. Am I enabling them? Am I expecting too little of them? Am I expecting too much? Should I have taught them that?
Sometimes you just don't realize they are old enough to learn something or do something on their own. Sometimes you don't realize that they aren't old enough to do something yet.
And every kid is different.
This parenting stuff is pretty dang hard, you know?
The beginning of summer is coming so I"m currently trying to decide on chores. What chores can I expect each child to do? Should I rotate or not? Is my 5 year old old enough to do this or that? Is my 7 year old? How do I motivate them.
Obviously, I want kids to be capable of doing things when they leave home. I don't want to be their maid.
Do you know my husband's mother made a full breakfast (eggs, french toast, bacon) for my husband every morning of his life?
My kids make their own breakfast and load their dishes. I think it is good for a kid to be able to take care of him/herself. Gives them confidence. That doesn't mean I'm going to leave them home alone.....
And at 5 & 7 they are finally able to clean up the family room by themselves. We usually do it together, but I don't have to point to each individual toy and then point to each place it goes. My 5 year old does need a little help staying focused on the task, but he is capable of doing it.
Those of you with younger kids, it is worth the years of teaching them how to do things.
And, they are actually getting pretty good at the whole backpack, shoes & coat thing.

5/27/2005 06:08:00 PM  

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