By Kelly Bartlett, certified positive discipline educator and leader for Portland API, Oregon USA
Teaching children practical life skills takes more time than we usually think. It’s common for parents to get frustrated with kids who aren’t doing something we think they should know how to do, like putting on socks or shoes, preparing food, putting laundry away, or the ever-popular instruction, “Clean your room!” Tasks like these seem so straightforward to us, but for children they can be overwhelming and surprisingly complicated.
Before we get overly frustrated with our children, it helps if parents can remember the “see one, teach one, do one” approach to learning new tasks. These are the steps it typically takes for kids to learn new things:
The child should see you demonstrating the task, and will watch with the purpose of learning. You can explain what you’re doing as you go. “Watch how I do these three things to get your room clean. First, I…”
Involve your child and do the task together. Have him help you with the various steps involved in cleaning that room. “You put all of the dirty clothes in the laundry basket, while I make your bed.” When you are working together, the job doesn’t seem so daunting for a child, and you’re also modeling cooperation, teamwork, and respect.
This also works well for older children who forget to do their jobs. A Certified Positive Discipline Trainer from Greenville, South Carolina in the USA, Kelly Pfieffer shares a story of her teenage son who would continually forget to bring in the garbage cans and recycling bins after garbage day. This was meant to be his responsibility, but it wouldn’t get done at the end of the day, nor even the next morning on his way out to school. “My husband would be especially upset because it was obvious to the neighbors that our trash cans had not been brought in,” she said.
Kelly decided to take time to teach her son and help him learn by making the job one that they would do together. She gave her son the opportunity to bring in the garbage cans when he got home, but when he didn’t, she met him at the door with a hug, a smile, and a, “We’re doing the trash together now. Let’s get it done.” It took a few weeks of this cooperative teaching, with no nagging or lecturing, and her son started going right to the garbage cans when he got home! Kelly says, “Now it’s unusual for him to forget, when it used to be unusual for him to remember. Though if needed, I will do the task with him again.”
Just as it took Kelly several weeks of teaching her son how to bring in the garbage cans, it will most likely take kids several teaching sessions before they get the hang of a job and are able to think through it on their own. Kelly even says she expects her son to forget again, as his priorities are simply different than hers. But she is ready and willing to step in and do it together with him again. Instead of labeling this step “teach one,” it would be more aptly called “teach many, many times!”
This final step is when the child is able to do the task on her own. Some children (like Kelly’s teenager) might be able to go right from cooperative learning to doing it on their own, while some children (such as younger ones) might benefit from the opportunity to do a task themselves while you’re there to supervise and help. Eventually, depending on the activity and the child, they’ll be able to do tasks on their own, unsupervised. Keep in mind, too, that even when kids seem to be capable of doing a job on their own, they may “forget how” from time to time. A refresher course given together in a calm and loving manner, without nagging or lecturing, will help kids remember what to do, while keeping your relationship positive.
Most importantly in this process of teaching children, parents can remember to use it as an opportunity to connect with them. When we can let go of the outcome — the focus on what our child “should” be doing — we can enjoy communicating with and helping our kids, and trust that the learning will occur.