Children are learning new things every day. It is often exciting but can also be exhausting!
I have been trying to be more mindful about encouraging my children to learn new skills lately through using these practical suggestions:
- Let the kids experiment with lots of different things… music, sport, art and various hobbies included. The more experiences kids are exposed to, the more comfortable and adventurous they will be. Trying something is the first step to becoming proficient at it.
- Give kids plenty of opportunities to try things on their own. Don’t rush in when they don’t ask for help!
- Even when they ask for help, see if you can verbally help them work on a problem instead of jumping in to fix everything up for them. Like when your toddler wants you to hold their hand going down the slide, offer to catch them at the bottom instead and see if they are comfortable with that. If not, of course go ahead and hold their hand! The point is offering gradual help to empower them to eventually do things on their own.
- If the kids do something a different way than you – and there’s no legitimate reason to correct it quite yet – let them do things their own way. For example, my five-year-old is very haphazard with his vacuuming but still does a decent job. I know he’ll keep seeing me systematically covering the floor when I vacuum myself and will probably naturally change his own style to match, but for now he’s doing an age-appropriate job which is 100% fine. I think “correcting” him would cause more harm than good… I just want him to continue practicing his vacuuming skills at his own pace.
- Allow them to express emotions without being judged. If kids cry or pout about something not coming easy, empathise with them. Saying, “It’s not that bad” or “Don’t worry about it!” can minimise their feelings and will often make them not want to try again. “I can see you are really frustrated about that” or “It’s okay to be upset when it’s difficult to do something” is often all one needs to hear in order to feel understood. Knowing someone understands can make you feel more confident to try again.
- Provide them with supportive tools to practice new skills. For example, this wooden lacing sneaker is a great way to practice tying shoes.
- Ask the kids if they have any questions about new experiences coming up. For example, when your child is getting ready for a presentation at school, you might ask: “Is there anything that you want to know about giving presentations?” or “Would you like to talk about anything before your presentation tomorrow?” Letting them know you are there to talk about things can ease anxiety and give them a chance to work out problems they would otherwise keep inside their own heads.
- Give them space and your emotional support to take a break when necessary. If learning how to get the ball in the hoop or how to do long division is causing too much frustration, step back for an hour (or day, or week) and try again a bit later. Sometimes they may need to practice foundational skills some more or it may just take extra time before they can developmentally tackle a particular skill.
- Offer specific feedback about their effort (“I could see you were working really hard to figure out how to do those tricky moves during Capoeira class!”) versus general praise (“Great job today”). This helps the kids recognise the individual skills they are developing and feel good about the effort they are putting in.
- Be a model! Try new things in your own life and let them see your own failures and successes. If kids watch their parents being courageous and doing new things without giving up, they are likely to follow suit.
What other ways have you encouraged your child to learn new skills?
The product featured in this post is available from Child.com.au.
I visited 10 classrooms and libraries around Australia to read my storybook Mason’s Greatest Gems during 2016, and Child.com.au generously donated a $100 voucher to each of them to use on educational materials for their students. Check out their website for a wide range of educational resources for children!
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