Parents know that it is their responsibility to make sure that their children learn how to take care of themselves. This starts from the beginning with an infant having tummy time to learn to hold up his head. It continues on through a child’s life at appropriate intervals. Toddlers learn to walk. Primary aged children learn to tie their shoes. When they are teenagers, they need to know how to follow a curfew. The majority of parents take this responsibility seriously and want to be sure their children are meeting their milestones.
Parental frustrations are most often expressed with a should comment. It sounds something like this. “I’m so frustrated. She SHOULD be able to brush her teeth by now.” Parents get very caught up in the “should’s” of their child’s development. I would state here that should’s are not the point. If your child is not able to accomplish a life skill independently, the should is irrelevant. Take the following example shared at a local parenting class.
“I get so angry in the mornings. I send my 7-year-old daughter upstairs to get dressed for school every day. She has been wearing the same school uniform since she was 4. Every day, she comes down missing something out. She has either not brushed her teeth or is missing a shoe or put in the wrong colour hairclips. It devolves into a shouting match and starts our day on a horrible note. It’s driving me crazy! She’s 7!! Shouldn’t she be able to do this by now? WHY CAN’T SHE JUST GET DRESSED?”
This parent has a point. Many 7 year olds are able to get themselves ready on their own. However, there is a bigger point that is being missed. Can some 7 year olds do it? Sure. The point is that her 7-year-old can’t. As we processed through this point, we realized that what her child needs is not derision. She needs support.
Children have a natural desire to get their parent’s love, attention and approval. If a child consistently displays the inability to complete a task from start to finish, they are demonstrating the need for more support. Here are a few suggestions to help teach children to go from skill development to mastery.
- Break The Task Down Into Chunks
As adults, we sometimes forget the number of steps that are involved in tasks that we have mastered. For example: In order to get dressed and ready for school, a child needs to first undress from pajamas, find new clothes, put on underclothes, then the uniform, then socks and shoes, then brush teeth, then brush hair, all whilst making sure the clothes are the right way around and put on in the right order. This can be overwhelming for some children’s brains. This is especially true in the morning when their brains are still waking up for the day. Chunking this task makes it more manageable and also ensures success. When children feel successful, they are much more likely to learn. As mastery occurs of each chunk, chunks can be grouped together. Eventually, your child will learn the full routine and will no longer need the support.
- Set Your Child Up For Success
Use your keen observational skills to see where the disconnect can be. Perhaps a child needs clothes laid out the night before. Perhaps she needs to practice doing her buttons. Some children respond well to lists or pictures so they can have a reminder of what needs to be done. See where the gap is and offer support as needed. These supports will be faded out when they become superfluous.
- Use Descriptive Praise To Focus On What Is Done Right
We so often focus on what is wrong. Our intent is to teach our children to learn from their mistakes. However, it can feel like nagging or criticizing. When children feel as though they have failed, they are not in the right mindset to learn. Instead, focus on what they have done right. For example: “Wow Cordelia, I see that you have brushed your teeth very well. This shows me how important it is to you to have a healthy mouth! I can’t wait to see what you brush next.” She will feel good about what she has accomplished and will be more likely to master that step. There is also the ninja move of reminding her to brush her hair. There is no discounting of what she has accomplished. This is a positive exchange that builds confidence.
Offering support to your children will help them master skills in a positive and productive manner. Does it take time? Sure! However, it usually takes the same amount of time that a parent would spend fretting or criticizing. You will be spending that time supporting your child in skill mastery whilst building a positive relationship free from yelling and nagging. Isn’t that a better way to start your day?