Notes on Parenting

Insights for parenting babies, toddlers, teens, and young adults.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Teaching Kids Necessary Skills

As a parent who has sometimes taken the easy way out, I am here to tell you that it is a mistake and I believe it sends multiple messages to our kids.  I would like to claim that I'm the perfect parent, but I'm not.

I didn't have the patience to teach my son how to tie his shoes when he was little.  It led to him howling in frustration and it was too appealing just to get some velcro or slip on shoes.  I would teach him how to tie his shoes later.  But then I had a 6-year-old who didn't know how to tie his shoes.  Besides, only the non-tie shoes had the cartoon characters he wanted.

At age 7, he still didn't know how.

At age 8, I tried to push the issue, but I felt so defeated by the shoe shopping experience and everything feeling "weird" on his feet, I gave in again.

At age 9 and on, it didn't get any easier.  My son liked the shoes that slipped on easily and so did I.  We could leave the house so much more quickly.

Eventually, it became plain embarrassing that my son didn't know how to tie his shoes, but even more so in Scouts.  Here they were learning all sorts of nifty knot tying, but he didn't know the most basic one. 

I confess, my son is now 12 and I forced him to get some shoes with laces at age 11.  He just ended up slipping them on without untying them.  Now with the latest pair, he can't get away with it and just now asked me again how to tie his shoes.  He's sitting on the couch watching a movie and practicing it repeatedly.  How much easier it would have been if I had just forced myself to teach him this years ago!  I feel like his fine motor skills are less developed, but it also teaches a lesson that when things become too difficult or inconvenient, we should just give up and go the easier route.  I clearly remember my dad teaching me how to tie my shoes before I was in school and it really didn't take all that long.

Here are some other important skills that are often put off or overlooked. 

Dialing and memorizing phone numbers.  Why dial it when it's on speed dial or the caller ID?  Obviously there are situations where we need it, but it doesn't seem like kids have numbers memorized anymore, especially when many of them have their own cell phones.  I was required to memorize my number and address in Kindergarten.  We were grilled on it for probably a week or more until our teacher was sure we all had it down.  I still know my best friend's phone number from 3rd grade because I was so accustomed to having to know numbers.

Telling time.  My parents wouldn't allow me to own a digital watch until I could read a regular clock.  It was a smart move on their part.

Riding a bike.  I think most kids learn this eventually, but perhaps later than they used to because they spend more time playing video games.  This was another struggle for my kids.  At the slightest discomfort, they wanted to quit.  It took bribing my older two with $10 each to learn how to ride their bikes.  That gave them the motivation they needed after they had said an hour earlier, "I don't want to learn how to ride a bike!"  Now they love it.  I remember trying to do front walkovers as a kid and knocking the wind out of myself repeatedly until I could do it.  Nothing could make me give up and I want to instill a little of that in my kids.  I think we have put so much emphasis on safety, kids think getting even minor injuries is the end of the world.

Swimming.  I know several adults who still don't know how to swim.  I think everyone should know this life saving skill.  Being low on funds, I have managed to teach two of my kids to swim so far on my own, but my 8-year-old is still resisting a lot.  We go to the lake as a family and I offer them popsicles or other treats if they will step out of their comfort zone and go under water x amount of times or swimming a certain distance. 

Saving money.  Every kid should be stretched financially and have to save for something they really want.  Pick something and don't buy it for their birthday or Christmas.  They need to learn self-control and understand that it takes hard work to earn the things you want.  I know, you can't wait to see the happy look on their faces when they finally have it, but make them work for it!  They will value it more.

Teach your kids that we don't quit.  We take a break and try again tomorrow.  Few skills come to us immediately.  I just bought my three-year-old daughter shoes with laces.  Lesson learned.

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