The pat routine

The period between the first and second years of a child involves a collection of leaps that all add up to a transformation. They go from mostly helpless babies to walking, babbling, little human beings. As witness to this transformation, I find myself frequently blown away by how much they learn by observation. For example, when we run out of ideas, we ask our 21 month old to put us to sleep – this, in turn, involves getting the “pat routine” going.

The pat routine is part of the final few minutes before she heads to bed at night. We take turns to pat her for 30 – 60 seconds each before leaving the room. As part of her re-enactment of our pat routine, she does a play-by-play of every detail. This includes quirks involving how we pat her, what we say before and after, and the time we take to do it.

Whenever I see her do this, I’m reminded of just how much learning is done by watching what we do versus listening to what we say. She still listens to what we say – most of the time – but she watches what we do all the time.

I noticed similar patterns in my own behavior recently. I was listening to someone speak and felt my eyes glazing over. But, later that day, I saw the same person do something that I paid a lot of attention to. They were simply doing what they said earlier – but, the doing caught my attention in a way the talking couldn’t.

So, it isn’t a “child thing.” Or, rather, it shouldn’t be. I’ve had some expensive life lessons in emotional intelligence where I paid far too much attention to what someone said instead of watching what they did. In making these mistakes, I clearly un-learned stuff I’d known by instinct in my early years. Kids get learning-by-observation right from the start. It is just on us as parents to make sure we’re walking our talk.

And, that applies just as well to us as leaders/teammates/human beings.

PS: I thought I’d share a ~40 min podcast with Paul on his “Think Boundless” podcast a few months back. We spoke about this blog, riffed on the future of work, and many lessons learned on a variety of topics including parenting. It is here – if you do take the time to check it out, do send me notes/feedback on rohan [at] or by replying to this email if you receive this by email.