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Learning to Learn: How Parenting Parallels Training and Development

As an instructional design consultant turned-project-manager, I usually have no problem with confronting unfamiliar scenarios to analyze, piece together, and solve. But recently I faced a series of challenges that failed to give me that same level of confidence, which is arguably one of the most critical training scenarios of all: I became a parent.

Now that I’m a mother of all of three months, I want to give my take on how to “learn to learn” to raise a newborn, summed up in five easy tips.

Choose the right delivery medium.

We’ve all heard it before: babies don’t come with instruction manuals, but that’s not necessarily true. A Google search for “baby instruction manual” brings up over 13 million hits, the first directly linking to an Amazon listing for a manual that offers “Operating Instructions, Trouble-Shooting Tips, and Advice on First-Year Maintenance” for babies. Yes, the art of parenting is now broken down into a mechanical model of instruction, even if it’s tongue-in-cheek.

While I was expecting my baby, I chose from one of the many advice books. I heard about a popular method for soothing crying babies that I could learn about in book form or DVD. I am more of a bookworm, and I figured I could get more advice out of a couple hundred pages than out of a 1-hour DVD, so I bought the book. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to start reading it until after the baby was born. That made things quite difficult, especially when holding a newborn typically required two hands. Watching a DVD would have been much more practical, plus it would have shown examples of how to do the steps talked about in the book. So yes, choosing the right medium for the audience’s capabilities is a big must.

Training helps when it’s just in time.

That parenting advice book was great once I got to the practical advice on how to comfort my baby. But that was half-way in, as the book was front-loaded with background information, cultural studies, and theoretical discussion. That information is all good – I’m sure I would have been very engaged had I read it before the baby’s arrival. But my baby was here in my arms, and I often wasn’t in a position to read through a lot of background on why the method worked. I just wanted the method, quick and upfront. Right when I needed it.

That’s when the calls in to parents, older siblings, and friends came in handy. These are great resources! There’s nothing like watching a loving grandma take your baby to show you how to rub his back to get the air bubbles out, much to the baby’s comfort and my relief.

Social networking really works – for learning.

I previously thought blogs and Facebook were mostly a way to keep in touch, but when I had to face a new problem or question about caring for myself or a newborn, social networking became a lifesaver. When my baby started teething early, I quickly shot out to my friends for advice and received several helpful answers within the hour.

Even with the plethora of excellent medical sites, often I could only find the answer to a question by googling the question itself. And more often than not, the most relevant posts would be on message boards where I could read the personal experiences of others and learn the correct terminology that would lead me to an authoritative source on the subject. Social networking allows users to frame their challenges in their own terms, illustrate personal experiences in small chunks, and help others get on the road to finding the right answers or consult a professional.

Don’t forget usability testing and subsequent revision.

Despite all my research on how to get my newborn on a predictable schedule, he inevitably would show me that he, and not my parenting philosophy, was ultimately in charge. What else could I do when my infant decided to stay happily awake at three in the morning? Or how to explain to myself that my previous once-a-week laundry sessions have now become a daily ritual? There are some things that even the best parenting books can’t predict, and the best mode is to test, revise, and test again. Swaddle him with his arms inside the wrap. If that doesn’t work, try his arms outside. Through trial-and-error, we were able to convince him to sleep through the night on terms that worked for him.

Look on the bright side.

When learning how to do something difficult where you are bound to make mistakes, humor is a crucial ingredient. As I faced one of the many new parenting tasks, such as how to work those many cumbersome car seat straps for the first time, I had to take the time to laugh, to forgive myself (and my partner), take a break, and try again. Taking it in stride, all this learning and development can bring certainly bring about a great amount of joy.