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Sowing the Gentleman Seeds: The Power of Observational Learning

This story originally appeared on the Gents Cafe Newsletter. You can subscribe here.


Brussels, 7:30 am: “What is dad putting around his neck?”. This is how I interpreted my one-year-old boy’s look while I was tying one of my favourite Italian ties. “Will dad still be able to breathe?”. Who knows if he associates my tie with his bib? As soon as I put his bib before he starts eating he instantly wants to take it off. Well, son, you will learn that this is a tie, a useless but very elegant accessory. And if you feel that you cannot breathe this is not due to the tie but rather that your collar shirt is too narrow. Hold on – am I going too far?

My baby seems very curious about what is happening around him. For example, he follows what people are doing in a café or a shop. Such as many parents, me and my partner realised how our baby was starting to imitate us. A simple and common example is clapping our hands while listening to music: one evening he started doing it by himself. Children from a very young age are learning by observing the behaviour of others in a process known as “observational learning”.  At home, he observes me while I am cooking, ironing or dressing myself, which I think stimulates his curiosity and maybe his future interests. It also pushes us as parents to behave better to sow the good seeds in him. A very good friend of mine recently posted on social media about a football trainer warning parents about their behaviour when watching their children at a football match: as they observe us, we must try and avoid any misbehaviour they could reproduce.

Showing good manners, infusing our personal tastes and teaching him that masculinity has to be positive (especially in our relations with women) are a few “gentleman seeds” that I believe we can sow gradually from a very tender age. Obviously he is still a baby and the day will come when, as a teenager, he might reject some of my habits or even outfits. However, until then let me savour these little precious moments when I like to think that by observing my behaviour, daily duties and rituals, I am sowing some good seeds. And the world we are living in – and we will leave to our children – definitely needs more elegance.


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