November 1, 2016

Do They Really Know?

Though my girls are teens, I still remember the details of coaching them through some of their early milestones: learning to walk, potty training, “pumping” on a swing. As parents, we seem to innately understand that very young children need specific instruction delivered with a smile and big doses of praise and enthusiasm. But somewhere along the way, we too often lose sight of all that, coming to act instead as if kids should “just know” and should simply do what’s “required” of them with or without positive feedback.

We insist they clean their rooms to our satisfaction – and scold and deliver consequences when they “fail.” But do we take the time to clean with them, step by step, talking as we go about what we expect and why? We bemoan the fact that they’re on their phones “all the time.” But do we set definite parameters and limits, detailing why our rules are beneficial and then providing consistent checks and guidance? We berate them for “bad grades” in English class, demanding they “try harder.” But have we bothered to make sure they really do know – step by step – how to write the essays being required of them? We scowl and insist they remain pure “or else.” But do we set aside our personal discomfort to calmly and clearly answer specific questions – even the very hard ones – which our kids will have along the way through their teen and young adult years?

All kids can learn some things “by osmosis.” My older daughter is actually a natural writer; she “just knew” how to organize her thoughts and insert compelling vocabulary without much instruction. My younger daughter essentially taught herself to sew and has created beautiful skirts and dresses without referring to printed patterns. Self-directed learning is a wonderful thing we should facilitate it. However, we hurt our kids when we assume they know and can meet our expectations without first taking time to specifically coach them through a process, providing appropriate praise and encouragement along the way.

In that vein, why not pause today and take inventory? Pull out a piece of paper or open a new Word document and list tasks and behaviors you expect of each child right now. Then detail the specific steps required to find success in each case and carefully evaluate whether or not a child actually has the necessary knowledge and skills to meet your expectations. If you don’t know, plan to find out by having a pleasant, honest conversation with the child. And where you realize they don’t yet have what it takes to succeed, determine a path toward getting them there – via your clear, positive coaching. Only then can you hold them accountable with integrity and maintain the strength of a positive relationship.

Photo Credit: jepoycamboy

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