Dear Parents: Why Slowing Down to Teach is Hard But Worth It

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Written by Jordan Langdon


“You mean... you’re asking me to show you… step by step... how to make your bed? I don’t have time for this! I’ll just do it myself.”

Have any of you had this thought when it comes to helping your child learn how to execute on a chore like making their bed or cleaning their room? After all, I’ve been doing these things on a regular basis for the past 30+ years. Isn’t this just something innate in all of us?!

No… turns out, that’s NOT the case!

When I slow down to think about what it takes to help a child learn how to do a chore, I like to imagine the learning curve of my first job in grad school—working in a Women’s Federal Prison. My colleagues had been working there for several years. The routine of driving through the security check, popping the trunk, and going through the metal detector was “old hat” for them. They could cruise up to the checkpoint with minutes to spare before the clock struck 0800 hours and still be to their desk on time. I, on the other hand, needed not only a verbal rundown of what was expected of me in order to get to my desk every day, but I also needed to ride in the car of one of my co-workers to see how she organized her supplies, what she said to the officer, and how she managed her route to the prison during rush hour traffic. Even after that, I STILL got it wrong, from time to time—and I was an adult!

Once I had run the course a few times and successfully made it to my work area, on time, I finally felt competent. I was very grateful to have such a generous co-worker who took me under her wing to be sure I knew just what I was expected to do, on a daily basis.

Fast forward 10 years, I had 2 kids and am on the go, rushing to and from work. The frustrations of a messy house and unmade beds were grinding on my last nerve. I remember fussing at my 4 yr-old, wondering why he hadn’t made his bed and put away his lovey (his most precious blankie). He looked at me with wide eyes and said “Mom, I don’t know HOW!”  

You see, we can find ourselves in such a rush and whirlwind of life that we forget we have to help our children learn how to do basic chores, such as pulling up sheets and blankets until they meet the end of the mattress. And it turns out, showing them 2-3 times, from start to finish, as we explain what we are doing step by step, really does set the foundation for that first time they try it on their own. Just like driving through the security checkpoint at the prison, where I wanted to be sure I was doing everything right, children like help to succeed in life, too!

So, next time you find yourself annoyed that things are in disarray around the house or beds are unmade, take a deep breath and remind yourself, “here’s a teaching opportunity”! The investment of my time, today, will pay off long term.

Stop… model… teach… and pass the torch.

HelpfulnessSteven Markel