You know that callous you get from biting your tongue when teaching a teen to drive? Yeah — I’ve got that. As I venture into the terrifying pursuit of teaching my child how to use wisely one of the deadliest weapons known to man, I’m reminded of the difficulty all parents face in teaching our children. Yet our core role is to pass on the skills children need to navigate their world well.
Whether you have a teen learning to drive or a tot learning to pick up her room, parents must teach. Which often proves daunting. There are a few keys that help us along the way.
Be a learner. As adults, we tend to settle into the known. Into jobs, hobbies, and relationships that we navigate easily from our storehouse of experience. Which makes it easy to lose track of how intimidating and frustrating learning something new can be. Every time my bank sells the mortgage to another company and I must learn a new online system, I remember how vulnerable I feel when facing the totally foreign. That’s how our kids feel. If we can purposely continue learning — piano, golf, or crochet — we will relate much more easily to our children as they take on new skills.
Break into manageable bits. People struggle to learn much as they struggle to eat — when the bites are too big or they are rushed, not much gets digested. To help — parents can break information into smaller pieces and slow the pace. For example, my son dreaded the thought of figuring out how to accelerate, steer, and watch for others as he began to drive. So, we removed the “watch for others” by driving in a vacant parking lot the first few times. He could go as slowly as he liked and get a feel for the car. As comfort grew, we added back roads then city streets. It works the same for most skills. Whether teaching our kiddos to make a bed or cook dinner, starting with small steps reduces stress.
So does slowing the pace. Learning any new skill engages different parts of the brain all at once. Making a simple meal requires learning how to physically manipulate a knife, mathematically calculate measurements, and adroitly avoid burners. Giving our child’s brain time to engage each different type of thinking proves key. When children are given the time to process, comfort levels go up and learning comes.
Use the show — join — watch strategy. Learning takes many repeats. Only by going over a new concept multiple times does true learning occur. In each pass, learners take in another piece of the overall picture until they finally put all the pieces together. The number of repeats varies with the maturity of our child and the complexity of the task, but all learning takes many repeats. This is why the “show — join — watch” model works so well.
Say we want to teach our child to make his bed. The first few mornings, Mom or Dad can show how to pull up the sheet, flatten the blanket, and smooth the comforter. Then, the next few mornings, parent and child make the bed together — with the child pulling up the blanket and Dad showing how to straighten out the lumps. The same with the blanket and comforter. Finally, the child spends a few mornings making the bed on his own — with Mom or Dad watching to encourage and give reminders. Showing someone how to do the whole job repeatedly provides a visual model that words alone can’t give. Joining together helps parents hone in on the challenging spots and offer advice. Standing back to watch allows children to practice on their own — with backup available. Parents know their job is done when son proudly announces, “I’ve got this!”
From potty-training to writing collegiate essays, we teach our children the skills to succeed. Remembering to keep the bites small and the pace manageable proves key. And ice. Keep in stock lots of ice for those poor callouses.