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This is Real Life and Kids Need Real Skills

By Myra Strassler, LCSW-C 

At one time you may have seen a momma duck crossing a field with its ducklings following behind. When they hatched from their eggs, the babies were imprinted with “this is my mom.” They follow her and learn from her. In many ways our children establish a similar link to us. They are neurologically programmed to pay attention to us. Our job is to nurture our children from infancy through childhood and that puts us in the unique position to teach them life lessons. As parents, we can use our child’s attachment, enthusiasm and interest to foster not only life skills and lessons, but also to instill them with a positive attitude towards learning. 

How do we communicate life-skills and turn them into successes for our children? We do this through everyday activities. Our children observe us and many times want to participate in the things we do. Hidden within these moments is the opportunity to impart values and skills that our children will carry with them through their lifetimes. Have you ever had a time when you were doing a household task – let’s say, watering the plants – and your child is watching you? You leave the room for a moment and when you come back, your child is watering the plants… along with the floor and the countertop and themselves! There is no doubt they had good intentions, they just don’t quite have the fine motor skills nor well directed age-appropriate steps to accomplish watering only the plants. Did the child do anything wrong? Absolutely not! In fact, he showed you he is interested in doing what you do. To him, your chore looked like his play. This is a wonderful time to make a connection with your child, teach a skill and convey the pleasure of doing the task. As a busy parent it can be tempting to react to seeing the water, “look what you have done- there is water everywhere!” But when we take a breath and focusing instead on the positive aspects of what has just occurred, our children gain in many ways and so do we. Our children are letting us know what their interests are and by appreciating that it lets them know you value them. By teaching your child to do a task, you are helping him feel that he, too, can contribute to the family. Your child will delight in being recognized for helping, some would say he’ll feel honored. Even if you are rushed, taking that moment to acknowledge your child’s participation and effort will pay big dividends in the future. 

With this in mind let me offer you some tips: 

  • Notice and acknowledge your child’s interest in what you are doing; 
  • Invite your child to participate; 
  • Make the time; schedule the time to do tasks or chores together; this investment in time is key to stimulating a child’s desire to contribute within family, which fosters family cooperation and often extends to the outside world. If there is not time immediately, set a “date” to do it. Put the time on the calendar and let your child see you doing this. 
  • Encourage your child first to foster a good work ethic; small corrections should be linked to the learning process with positive reinforcement. 
  • Sometimes just watching is not enough. What is routine for us, can be complex for a child. Break down tasks into smaller, learnable steps that are manageable for the child to nurture success. Getting the job done perfectly is not necessarily the primary goal. By working and learning together and acknowledging each success (no matter how small), you will not only provide your child with a desire to keep participating in household life-skill tasks, but you’ll also be reinforcing their overall willingness to try new things and to learn, even when it is something that doesn’t come easily. 

Keep in mind that it is about sharing – sharing the time, sharing the interests, sharing the moments together. We may not remember the ups and downs of when we were learning how to achieve even the smallest of tasks. But we were shaped by the time and focus given to us by our own parents during these early years of our lives. Ultimately, you are helping your children, your little ducklings, gain self-confidence and grow into self-reliant, accomplished people who will be able to make it on their own when it is time for them to stop waddling along behind you. 

Myra Strassler, LCSW-C, is a Therapist at Jewish Community Services. 

JCS provides a broad range of services that meet the diverse, multi-dimensional needs of individuals and families throughout Central Maryland.  We offer guidance and support when you are seeking solutions for emotional well-being, aging and caregiving, parenting, job seeking, employers and businesses, achieving financial stability, living with special needs, and preventing risky behaviors. To learn more, please visit  jcsbalt.orgor call 410-466-9200.   

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