Teach Children Living Skills from the Counselor’s Corner
Life Skills – Is Talking Teaching?
By Sharon Scott, LPC, LMFT
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Teaching children living skills–whether it’s about being of good character or how to wash clothes or balance a checkbook– is a very important parental responsibility.
We know that these living skills will enable our children to one day live on their own. This summer I once again watch the 17 barn swallow nests on my house and am amazed at the ability of these birds to prepare their young to feed, fly and one day raise a family of their own.
Many barn swallow ‘friends or relatives’ come in the day when the babies will learn to fly and demonstrate by flying ‘in place’ in front of the nest. One by one the babies eventually zoom off they actually fly rather than fall to the ground!
And I believe it’s because of so much demonstration, not just idle chirping, that allows this to happen. And for the next five or so days, the parents get the babies back in the nest before nightfall, give them some comfort food of insects, and allow them to rest for the next day’s lesson. They don’t just turn them loose once they can fly. I marvel at the knowledge the parent birds have.
Many human parents, though, believe that talking is teaching and listening is learning. In other words, if you have told your child how to do something then you expect that the child has learned it.
This is not the way most children actually learn. Of course, we need to tell the child how to do the task to be learned. But most parents stop there. For example, in my private counseling practice I recently had a mother tell me that her teenage daughter had been saving her money from her part-time job for a particular item.
When the girl went with her mother to purchase it, the sales clerk rang up $25 rather than the sale price of $10. The mother said her daughter’s mouth dropped and she just stood there speechless, so the mother stepped in and told the clerk the item was on sale.
When they got to their car, the mother said she told her daughter that she must learn to speak up for herself in instances like this. The mother thought her daughter now knew what to do.
Not necessarily, the mother actually doesn’t know if her daughter can do it or not, she just hopes she can. I explained to the mother that this conversation should have included a role-play practice after telling her daughter what she should do.
In other words, the mother pretends to be a clerk asking for the wrong amount and her daughter has to tell the ‘clerk’ that is the wrong price. This allows the child to ‘feel’ (not just ‘know’) what to do and will dramatically increase the probability that she will do it the way she has been taught. It also allows you to praise and/or re-teach if the child is having difficulty with the newly learned task.
In other words, as Vince Lombardi said, ‘Perfect practice makes perfect.’ Football players don’t show up at game time having been just told how to execute the plays. They have practiced and rehearsed for the big game. We’re not truly expecting perfection. The point is to allow your children to try out the skills you teach them to build their success.
Excerpted in part from Sharon’s wonderful book for elementary-age children, Nicholas’ Values: A Child’s Guide to Building Character (HRD Press, 800-822-2801)
Copyright 2018, Sharon Scott. No reproduction without written permission from author.
The guide for parents/educators on how to peer-proof children and teens is Peer Pressure Reversal: An Adult Guide to Developing a Responsible Child, 2nd Ed.
Her popular book for teens, How to Say No and Keep Your Friends, 2nd Ed., empowers kids to stand out,not just fit in!
A follow-up book for teens, When to Say Yes! And Make More Friends, shows adolescents how to select and meet quality friends and, in general, feel good for doing and being good.
Sharon also has a charming series of five books for elementary-age children each teaching an important living skill and "co-authored" with her savvy cocker spaniel Nicholas who makes the learning fun.Their book on managing elementary-age peer pressure is titled Too Smart for Trouble.
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