Kids are sponges, and they learn so fast. And as parents, we tend to assume that kids will learn lots of things just by.. osmosis. Just because “everyone knows that”. But we do our children a disservice when we fail to teach them directly and deliberately, even when it seems so basic and so fundamental, we want to assume they already know. Sometimes, though, we assume they’ll just know. Because knowing how to teach your child is a skill we need to learn.
We need to do better.
So instead of assuming our kids know anything, let’s make the point of teaching them. When we take the time to teach our kids, we are not only able to give them a better foundation in the skills they need and want, but we’re able to impart values and meaning behind why we do things the way we do things. And when we teach our kids on purpose, we’re able to evaluate how we do those things, and maybe even improve on them ourselves.
Here’s how to teach your children every single thing they need to know.
First pick your moments.
If you’ve ever heard the phrase “teachable moment” then you know what I’m talking about when I say you need to pick your moment. Sometimes, kids are too distracted, too tired/hungry/upset to want to actively learn a new skill or process. Sometimes, they’re already in the middle of learning, and interrupting that will not only derail them but they’ll resent it and may even actively refuse to listen to whatever it is you’re trying to teach them.
So carefully pick the moments you choose, in order to maximize the effectiveness of your teaching.
Don’t force, invite them.
This is so important, and it’s an important thing to teach our kids in itself. Consent is huge. And being welcomed and invited into an activity is also a big deal.
No one likes to be forced into doing something. This is why public schools struggle to get and keep kids engaged in learning over the long-term! When people are compelled into doing something — even if it’s a natural as learning — they immediately resist.
But an invitation allows them to choose. And when you choose to do something, there’s ownership and a responsibility that comes with that choice. It’s psychological, but it is a huge component to learning success.
Invite them to learn from you. Don’t force them to learn. It will improve your relationship with them — and they’ll learn better.
Let them “catch” you working.
If you want to instill good habits, impart your values and teach your child how to do just about everything, you have to be doing it yourself. Your habits, your values, your skills, knowledge and wisdom need to be present, even when your kids aren’t around. That way, when you don’t know they’re watching, they’ll see you living what you’re teaching.
Our children won’t do as we say. They’ll do as we do. So let them “catch” you living out the very things you want to teach them.
Let them watch as often as you can
Beyond letting them catch us working, we need to actively invite our kids along to watch us while we’re working. If there’s a particular thing you want your kids to learn, invite them from an early age to watch you, to hang out, to be there while you’re working on that thing.
The more your kids feel welcome watching us do the things, the less they will be intimidated by the things we’re teaching them. It will feel normal, expected and they will be excited about learning, not dreading it.
Make sure you engage ALL the senses
Studies show that multi-sensory learning leads to better learning. That means that simply lecturing our kids on how to do something isn’t the best way to teach them. And just showing them isn’t going to be the most effective either. But showing, telling, and getting them to work with you — engaging all the senses — is what we need to do to make sure our kids get the best results.
And that leads into the next strategy…
Do it hand over hand.
Literally, take your hands, and put them over your child’s hands and help them with the task. It’s one of the best ways to learn.
Whether it’s a life skills like cooking, cleaning, home repair or auto maintenance, or a more specialized skill like sewing, grooming animals, painting, or building furniture, invite your child to help, and do it hand-over-hand. The confidence of your experience will be embedded into the feel of doing the task, as you guide your child’s hand. And that will greatly speed up their learning curve.
Sure, it’s probably easier and faster for you to just do the thing yourself, without your child’s “help”. And often, we shoo the kids away so we can focus on getting it done. But when we take the time to slow down and teach, we’ll reap huge benefits. Maybe not all right away.. but the benefits will be there eventually.
One of the things I’ve taken the time to teach my kids to do is cook. It’s a basic life skill, and something everyone should know how to do. It’s also something that, when done well, is instantly rewarding. But inviting small children to “help” in the kitchen can be an invitation to twice the work, and twice the clean up!
But because I invested the time in teaching my children to cook, I no longer have to do all the meal prep myself. In fact, as my children get older, no one gets too overwhelmed with all the cooking, because now it’s spread out amongst all of us. My time and energy throughout the day is freed up and my kids get lots of practice. It’s great!
Share stories while you’re working.
One of the best ways to learn is through play. And a big part of playing is story-telling. So it makes sense that a big part of teaching our kids will be through storytelling.
Cultures around the world have long traditions of oral storytelling as the method of passing on generational wisdom. From practical skills like farming best-practices, or when to harvest wild fruits, to more abstract skills like choosing a life-partner or how to treat friends, storytelling can have a huge impact on shaping how our kids think and choose.
You don’t have to tell fables and folktales though, to pass on the practical skills or values you want to teach your child. Share stories from your own childhood, or things your parents told you while you were growing up. We might all chuckle at the cliché “When I went to school I walked uphill both ways!”, but the truth is, family stories are just as powerful as the more well-known parables and proverbs.
Make it personal.
There’s nothing more motivating for someone to learn something than when it’s personal. So show your kids how the skills, values and experience you have and that you want to teach them, will directly help them do the things they want to do — right now or in the future.
Make it meaningful.
Learning something for the sake of learning can be fun, but often, unless it connects emotionally, it’s quickly forgotten. When we go to the effort of teaching our kids, whether it’s how to change a tire, or how to deal with a disappointment, we don’t want them to forget. So we have to connect what we’re teaching with their emotions. We have to make it mean something to them.
How do you know you got through? When you get a reaction from them — even if that’s just an eye-roll. Getting completely ignored, like a blank stare, means that you haven’t done your job yet. Keep trying. But getting sarcasm, getting an impatient reaction, crossed arms, angry stares… as annoying as that might feel, it’s a good thing. It means they’ve connected emotionally with what you’re saying and doing. And that means they’re paying attention and they’ll remember it.
Make it relevant.
So this is where the generational gap can come in and interfere with what we want to teach our kids. Sometimes, as parents, we forget that the world our kids are growing up in, and the world they will experience as adults, will be very different than the one we grew up in. And sometimes, the skills we want to pass on just aren’t relevant anymore.
When I was growing up, the way you got a summer job was by being brave, doing up a resume, asking for a manager, and filling out an application by hand. You got that first job, at least, by showing up and asking. But 20 years later, that just doesn’t work anymore. Most summer jobs have online applications now, and it’s less about showing up as it is about looking good on paper. So if I’m going to try to teach my kids about how to get a job, I need to give them the skills to use technology and how to write well more than I do about resumes and how to shake someone’s hand.
A big part of knowing how to teach your child? The skill, the value, whatever it is … it has to be relevant to their world.
Ask for feedback to check understanding.
Teaching isn’t a one-way street. The only way you’re going to know you’ve accomplished anything is by asking your kids if they understand. But if you aren’t the type of parent that lets your kids question you, let alone welcomes and invites questions… they’re never going to tell you they don’t get what you’re trying to teach them.
If you want to teach your child anything, you’ll need to create an environment where your kids feel comfortable asking questions and giving criticism. After all, being able to accept criticism is a skill we all need to learn and pass on.
Repetition is key.
There’s never going to be a one-time teaching moment for any skill, value, knowledge or experience you want your kids to learn. The only way something is learned is by learning it repeatedly.
Take the long view when teaching your kids. Realize that they aren’t going to get it on the first go-round, they aren’t going to necessarily remember it right away, and you’ll probably need to repeat yourself more times than you like. Remember that teaching our kids everything and anything is a life-long process.
As parents, it’s a big part of our job to teach our kids. There are so many things they need to learn — from practical life skills, to academics, to the “big” stuff like how to treat people, how to get along, and taking responsibility. But if we model it, if we take the time to invite our kids along, to go slow and to actively teach them, hand-over-hand, we’ll get there.
And the best thing about taking the time to teach our kids is that we can build our relationship with them at the same time.