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John Whyte, M.D., MPH Headshot

3 Things My Toddler Taught Me About Life

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John Whyte, M.D., MPH

As parents, we are always trying to teach our children some important life lessons. Recently, I have been trying to teach my 17-month-old son to say "Daddy." Despite my best efforts, he says "Mommy." And he can repeat words such as "Hi" and "Bye," but when I say "Daddy," he responds with "Mommy." Lately, he has been giggling after this exchange, so I'm beginning to think he knows how to say "Daddy," but he is just toying with me.

I recently realized, though, while I have been trying to teach him, he has been teaching me quite a bit about life and how to be successful. Skeptical that a toddler can do that? Well, consider this:

1. Smiling works.
My son smiles all the time -- in fact, friends and family would often call him a very smiley baby. And all this smiling has some benefits. It's hard to say "no" to this smiling cherub. So I will admit that the smile has worked in securing him some ice cream -- even at 7 a.m.! And his smile when he gets Siri to talk on the iPhone is priceless, although in fact I think he is the source of my increased data plan costs. I know the phrase "a crying baby gets fed," but there is data that suggests that smiling, in babies, is a survival tactic. The first smiles might even be a reflex since it is believed that parents view smiling babies as more appealing, thus keep them safer. All this smiling at home has actually translated to smiling at work. Lately, I have been smiling a lot more in the office. And people seem more willing to do what I've been asking them. Coincidence? I'm not sure, but all my smiles seem to get people to go along with my ideas. I'm not sure my ideas are any better than before, but discussing them with a smile seems to do the trick.

2. Listening is important.
Ever since my son was born, I've become a much better listener. I listen for the first sounds of crying at night from his room; I listen for tiny footsteps running down the hall with only a diaper on; I listen for the crashing of books being pulled down from a shelf. In fact, I think my hearing has improved since I've gotten older. Now along with all the smiling I'm doing at work, I'm also doing a lot of listening. (This listening might also be a result of that listening for cries at night which has decreased my sleep considerably!). I found people appreciate being heard, and welcome the opportunity to offer their perspective. This is especially true for patients because physicians don't listen enough. In fact, studies have shown that doctors interrupt patients typically after just 12 seconds of patients talking. My son taught me to listen considerably longer than that, and that makes me a better physician.

3.Multitasking is critical.
As parents, we definitely need to multitask, and my toddler has taught me how to multitask with the best of them. Need someone to cook dinner, wash clothes and entertain a child all at the same time? I'm your man! I had always thought of myself as a good multitasker, but I was a mere neophyte back then. I get a lot more done at work, despite the fact that home life is much busier than it was just 17 months ago. I guess there is some truth to the phrase "if you want something done, ask a busy person."

I'm going to keep trying to teach my son to say "Daddy" along with many other life lessons. But I will also be alert to how he is teaching me in ways I would have never even dreamed.