Letting our children do things on their own creates a sense of panic within a parent’s heart. We can do things so much easier, when we do things we control the mess and things are done well. This is short sighted though – at some stage our kids need to be able to do these things – whether it is doing the dishes, baking a cake, mopping the floor, driving a car, or leaving home! The only reason we can do these things well is because we’ve had plenty of practice – our children don’t have that experience just yet and they won’t get it either – unless we let them do things on their own.
A part of training anyone to do anything is that there is a learning curve and unless the student takes on that curve they will never be proficient.
The key for the one learning is to never give up, keep on practicing.
The key for the one instructing is to step aside and let them give it a go.
When we do life will get messy – tasks will take longer – and things won’t be done to the same standard. But it is all a part of training our kids.
Training is Messy
When we teach our children a life skill there is a four step process:
- We model how to do something
- We instruct – giving the directions and the reasons behind our instructions
- We let them practice – with us standing beside them prompting, guiding and correcting
- We let them do it on their own – stepping right aside – so they bear the consequences and rewards
The ultimate goal in training our kids any life skill is that they will be able to do it on their own, without us being around. It is easy to model – instruct – and then get stuck on the practice level. When parents hover around their kids prompting, guiding and correcting them and never let go and let the kids do it on their own – we will never know if they truly can do it. It is only as we step aside that we will see if the skill is truly theirs.
This is challenging. As the adult in the house we have a degree of control – but when we want to train our kids to be self-governing, we need to let go, little by little as they gain the appropriate skills. During my directive parenting years I have seen my house as a training ground. Training grounds aren’t pretty!
When it comes to training our kids we need to let go of:
- Being orderley – of course we don’t have to live in complete disarray, but some of the standards of order may have to lag a little as your children learn.
- Doing things quickly, in a short time frame – it takes time to master a skill, and if our children are learning we need to give them time to learn and practice. Impatience will kill any confidence or even desire to learn.
Once our children learn the skill and really know how to do it they will gain confidence – and in doing so they will be able to do it better (giving you a greater sense of order and timeliness). We need to give our children the opportunity to get their hands dirty, to try new things, to fail and to try again. Eventually they will master it but it takes time and hands on experience to get there.
They might do it Differently than You
Once our children gain some abilities you may find that they start doing things differently than you. This can be really frustrating – after all the effort you took to teach them the right way (read ‘your way’!) Instead of seeing our kids as cocky and reclaiming our control on every area of our house, we need to step back and see what is really going on here.
We’ve taught them how to do something, and why we do it that way. But that doesn’t mean there is only one way of doing it. (Though we may have only ever thought of doing it that one way).
When they start to do it ‘their way’ they are really experimenting with problem solving. We may see a big hole in their thinking – and depending on how important the task is to you – you can talk about it with them – ask them their thinking, ask them if they have thought of the bigger picture, Showing initiative and solving problems (even if it is their perceived problem) is all a part of taking ownership of a task.
And this is what we want. We want to teach our children to do tasks – and then we want them to do it on their own.
They may find a better way to do it.
They may stuff up.
Either way – it is all a part of mastering a skill.
The question we have to ask ourselves is: Are we prepared to let them do it?
- Even if I can see ahead of time that it won’t work?
- Even if I can see a long list of repercussions?
- Even if we can see that it will take longer?
It all comes back to the same issue: Am I prepared for it to get messy and take longer – for the sake of my child learning?
Experimenting, or trying new things, or problem solving – which ever way you want to put it is a part of growing up and making the life skills your parents teach you become your own. If we don’t let them stretch their wings then they won’t learn to fly.
This is the Season for Training
Letting go and letting things get a little messy starts with 4 and 5 year olds doing the dishes and setting the table and making their bed. And then it continues through to the teen years when they set their own bedtime or homework schedule through to the older teen when they go out with their friends or eventually leave home. There is an age appropriate aspect here – I’m not talking about letting them do whatever they want on their own just because they want to do it. No, I’m talking about a part of the training process: we model, teach, practice and then expect them to be able to do it on their own.
As we start to let them try – without us hovering we need to guard our responses.
- We need to guard against taking personal offense at them doing it a different way.
- We need to be there for them if it does fail without saying, “I told you so!”
- We need to be there with praise when it works their way – maybe even be humble enough to change your way if their way really did work better!
I am amazed at how much kids can do. If only we let them. Life skills are one of the easiest things to teach kids because there is an obvious purpose to what they are learning, and there is an immediate application. But unless we let them do it – it just becomes head knowledge, they lose interest and it can become a issue of contention in your family.
When I was 12 I enjoyed cooking. But I did things differently than my mum. My mum was gracious enough to give me the kitchen when I wanted to bake – she had but one rule and that was that I cleaned up after myself. I don’t know that I cook that much differently than my mum today, but I sure did think I did when I was 12! Mum had taught me how to cook, I just wanted to do it myself. The same with sewing – when mum stepped back from looking over my shoulder all the time I started to enjoy sewing and took on trickier projects. I am sure I had many a flop in the kitchen and I needed mums help with my sewing but once I had the skills mum let me give it a go – though was always available to help me if I asked.
Is there something that you are doign t his coming week that you can give to one of your kids? Cooking a cake, planting seedlings, fixing a motor or bathing the dog? Do your kids know how to do any of these things? IF so let them. If not, have them with you and teach them and let them do it next time!
How we Taught our Kids to do Household Chores: Chores are a part of family life but our children need to be taught to do them well. This is how I taught my kids to do chores when they were young.
Remember these 4 Stages to be an Effective Parent: These 4 training stages helps us to teach our children rather than just tell them. Without these 4 stages we are likely to frustrate our children.