Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Hardest Concepts to Teach

There's so much we're responsible for teaching our children. SO. MUCH. A few of these things are insanely easy (if you're lucky) like walking & talking. Other things like potty training or riding a bike, take lots of practice. Some of these we look forward to teaching like how to throw a ball, how to swim, writing their name or tying a shoe...and I think it goes without saying that parenting wouldn't be all that hard if this was all there was to it. It is not.

What about the concepts that we adults take for granted?

The ones so deeply engrained, it's hard to find words to explain them.

 Especially to a six year-old.

Concepts like responsibility, honesty, trustworthiness or even lying, are completely new ideas that have to be understood. To him, he's just telling a story or a joke so how do I explain the difference between telling a story & telling a lie? As simply as possible. Remember, your kid is just that. A kid. The simplest explanation is probably going to be the best in the end. If they have more questions, they'll come ask. Over-explain things & you run the risk of boring them; bored kids equal inattentive kids which means that 20-minute speech you just delivered about actions & consequences, in finite detail, went right over their heads. Thirty seconds into it, they tuned out.

Instead, I tell him something like this --

"When you're telling a story, everyone knows it's a story & it's just pretend. When you tell a lie, we don't know that it's pretend & that can be scary or dangerous." 

Simple. To the point. I use words he knows & understands. I don't want to confuse him; I want to teach him. I can't just tell him "I need to be able to trust you."; I actually have to explain what "trust" means. Again, use words your kid is going to understand. Explaining that trust is being honest will only work if your kid knows what the word "honest" means. If not, you just opened a whole new can of worms.

Think of every mistake your kid makes as a learning opportunity. When they lie, teach them why it's important to be honest. If they steal, make them take whatever contraband it is & return it. Explain what they did wrong in words they understand and what the consequences are. Be neutral. Be empathetic. It's a technique I learned called Love & Logic and it really is exactly that. When I'm telling Phoenix why he's in trouble or trying to get him to recognize bad behavior or poor choices, I use empathy & sentences full of "You"s;

"Oh, Phoenix it's so sad YOU chose to do that. Because YOU made that choice, YOU lost your video game. I bet next time YOU will make a better choice."

By letting them make small, easily remedied mistakes, we teach them there are consequences to their actions and we give them the tools they need to make smart, informed decisions. They learn to think before they do & those hard-to-teach concepts become a little easier to explain. I use myself & my choices as examples too, pointing out when I've made a bad choice or a mistake and what I should have or could have done differently. 

It may seem counter-intuitive to let your kid make mistakes but what you're really doing by allowing them to make mistakes is allowing them to learn, first-hand, how their choices, decisions & actions affect themselves and the people around them. You're teaching them that mistakes are okay to make & how to learn from them. If we don't let them make mistakes, how can we teach them about honesty, responsibility, trust? Do we just expect them to "get it"? They won't; I know this because I see adults every day that are completely lacking all of these essential concepts. They don't have jobs. They live at home. They never grow up. They don't except responsibility for their situations; they blame others for the choices they make. Why?

Because Mom & Dad didn't teach them to how to be an adult. They didn't teach them about responsibility or accountability. Mom & Dad taught them how to be a kid. 


Me? I want to teach my kids how to be functional, healthy, happy adults. I want to give them the skills, the knowledge, the power they need to succeed in life. I want them to have morals and a sense of accountability; I want them to be responsible and think about how they impact the people around them. I want to raise insightful, caring children who will make the world I give them better for their own children. I want them to make mistakes so I have the opportunity to help them learn. Ask anyone what makes a person "good" or "bad" and I'm fairly certain 'Morals' will be right there at the top of the list. 

They may not be easy to teach but they are critical if you want your kids to grow up & become adults. If you want to be responsible for a 35 or 40 year old CHILD in another 20 or 30 years, ignore this post & keep on doing everything you can for them. They won't thank you for it though & I'm sure you'll regret it, eventually. Or maybe not...


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