My youngest son Berkeley is an adorable 4 year old boy that is almost always happy and grinning from ear to ear, except when he isn’t. He has a fire in him that can definitely emerge from time to time if provoked by his older brothers, but most of the time he remains the sweetest blond haired little boy I know.
Recently, Berkeley was helping my wife with dinner as he often does. He was cutting veggies with his little hands kitchen tools and working away as he stood up to the kitchen counter next to my wife. They decided that night to make chicken parmesan. After the veggies were cut, Berkeley moved on to a new task. He was excited to be helping with a duty that was even more “grown up.” He would poke his fork in the chicken breast and dip it in the butter and then the bread crumbs, coating the chicken for baking. When he was finished with his chore he proceeded to do what he always does when cooking with Mom… He licked his fork. Yeah, the one that was covered in butter, breadcrumbs and potentially salmonella ridden chicken germs. My wife quickly said to him, “Oh Berkeley, don’t stick that in your mouth! Raw chicken can make you really sick!” Berkeley’s expression fell as he looked at my wife with concern and responded, “Mom, you have to teach me these things… before I do them. I don’t know this stuff. You have to teach me!”
You have to teach me these things!
I’m not of the belief that our children are a true “tabula rasa” or blank slate. There are definitely things that our children just come equipped with. Some things come naturally with development. Other things require us to teach them. When Berkeley said, “You have to teach me these things” it reminded me of my essential responsibility to teach my children and made me seriously think about how we can better fulfill this important work. Just as Berkeley expressed, our kids want to learn. They want us to teach them. They are practically begging us to teach them.
Berkeley’s statement made me think about how I respond to him when he is struggling, maybe in those moments I talked about at the beginning of the article when his fiery side shows itself. It made me think…
- When Berkeley is screaming and chasing his brothers, he is actually saying, “Dad, you have to teach me how to calm down, problem solve and resolve conflict peacefully.
- When my oldest son, Cuylar refuses to do his chores he is actually saying, “Dad, you have to teach me about cooperation and maybe even respectful ways to assert boundaries.”
- When my middle son, Eli teases his little sister or brothers he might be pleading, “Dad, you have to teach me that I’m valuable and powerful and I can obtain attention and power in more positive ways.
- When Emma, my 2 year old daughter whines and cries uncontrollably when she gets the green cup instead of the red cup she is actually expressing, “Daddy, you have to teach me how to manage this overwhelm and disappointment of unmet expectations.”
So how do we teach them these things? Every parenting program available today talks about discipline or teaching in some form. Yet, not all methods of “discipline” actually teach our kids what they need and want to know and what we intend for them to learn. Nor do all the possible responses to our children’s behaviors utilize all of the principles of TRU Parenting. When we fail to respond in ways that Teach, build the Relationship and continue to Upgrade ourselves as individuals and parents, our teaching often falls short. They don’t learn what they truly need and want to learn.
Let’s not be naïve in thinking that we can simply tell them and that is the end of our teaching. Telling is only the beginning, and sometimes our teaching does not even require words at all. There are primarily 4 categories of teaching and edifying our children. Obviously there are a million specific techniques or teaching practices possible, but they all fit somehow into these 4 categories.
The 4 Ways we can teach our children proactively
1. Show: Your children are always watching you, even when you don’t think they are paying attention. There are many wonderful quotes that express this significant concept of teaching. Robert Fulghum said, “Don’t worry that your children don’t listen to you; worry that they are always watching you.” Another quote takes this idea one step further and states, “It’s not about what you say to your child but who you are.” Studies show that people that smoke or drink have children that are much more likely to smoke or drink themselves, no matter what verbal message was sent about substance use. Often to my embarrassment, every single one of my children has publicly performed some behavior that I have privately executed in the comfort of my own home. Almost everything they do they learn by watching first. Everything from tying shoes to math and reading are learned, at least to some degree by watching.
2. Tell: It may be true that what we do and who we are play a more significant role in what our children learn and actually implement into their lives, but that does not mean that our words don’t matter. Language helps us and our children attach meaning, memorize and categorize our experiences, feelings and ideas. An important distinction is that effective learning by telling rarely takes root when the words are harsh or threatening. Accurate learning that actually promotes positive application of productive principles happens most effectively when moods are optimistic, words are constructive and the child is genuinely engaged and enjoying themselves.
3. Enlist participation: Shared experiences are very effective ways to teach. Benjamin Franklin once said, “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I remember, involve me and I learn.” Play is a powerful form of learning for kids and can be one of the greatest opportunities to teach our children without them feeling like they are being lectured to death. Working together and including our children in our daily responsibilities can be incredibly influential as well. It can give us amazing opportunities to incorporate the “show and tell” aspects of teaching within the context of our child’s own practice and experience.
4. Self discovery: As parents we often worry about our kids. We envelop them in bubble wrap and seek to save them from every possible experience of pain or discomfort. When we do this we fail to see that self discovery and even mistakes and distress provide them with the prospect of growth. When my son, Berkeley said, “Mom, you have to teach me these things” he was actually in the process of self learning. My wife also provided gentle feedback in that situation which gave him reference for the next time he was cutting chicken. One of our roles as parents is to guide and allow for self discovery within a reasonable limit of safety. Obviously, allowing my child to self discover what happens when they run out in front of a bus is not a reasonable risk to take, but we can invade, intervene and save less than we often do. When our kids make a discovery on their own, it is more deeply engrained in them. It gives them a sense of self esteem and efficacy that cannot be matched by giving them the answer to a problem.
Being proactive in how we can teach our kids basic principles, skills and values through all of these methods can save us struggle and conflict. We can anticipate many of life’s struggles and give our children skills, perspective and a reference point from which to manage those struggles if we are sensitive to their needs and put appropriate plans for teaching in place.
We do our best… that’s enough
I know you might be thinking, “That’s all well and good to always be ahead of the game and teach our kids what they need to know before they need to know it, but that’s just not the way things work. We can’t foresee everything they will need to know and learn.” Its true we can’t always be preventative in our teaching or ingrain into our kids everything we try to teach, but that’s reality and its okay. Ultimately our children will learn from our mistakes as much as we learn from our mistakes if we are willing to fess up to them and move forward. The lesson of humbly recognizing our mistakes, apologizing and moving forward is one of the greatest life tutorials we can give our children. We do our best and that’s enough. Our best efforts will be rewarded if we remember that our kids want to learn and grow, we have a stewardship to help them, and we can do that in proactive, loving, TRU ways.
What do you feel are some of the most important things you need to teach your kids? What are some of the most effective ways you proactively teach your children these things?
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