By Deborah Farmer Kris, author of the All the Time series
A couple of years ago, my youngest child woke up and announced his intention to ride his bike without training wheels . . . right now. Note: he had never once attempted this task.
He hopped on with confidence. But after about 10 minutes and multiple falls, he threw the bike down in frustration.
“It takes a while to learn how to ride,” I said.
“But mom,” he replied. “I don’t want to learn how to ride a bike—I want to know how to ride a bike!”
Who doesn’t want a magic wand that lets you bypass the “stretch” part of learning and get right to the “mastery” part?
But growth doesn’t always work that way. As I write in my book You Are Growing All the Time:
Sometimes learning is a breeze.
Sometimes you struggle through it.
You try and think and try again,
and then say, “I can do it!”
Kids are going to grow no matter what—on the inside and on the outside. But as parents, we can increase their self-confidence and perseverance by reminding them of all the ways they have grown, all the ways they are growing, and all the ways they will grow.
Remind Them of All the Ways They Have Grown
In early childhood, every month seems filled with changes. What are the little things they can do now that they couldn’t do a few months ago? Zip up their jacket? Put away their clothes? Help walk the dog? Name their colors? Use their words to express their feelings? Share their toys with a friend?
When you see it, say it. Let them hear you say, “You just put on your snow pants all by yourself. You couldn’t do that last year!” or “Look at you! A few months ago, you were learning your letters, and now you can write your name all by yourself!”
Celebrate All the Ways They Are Growing
Kids need to be noticed. And sometimes, the small observations mean the most. I was inspired by a friend who made it a bedtime ritual to point out one good thing she noticed each day about her kids. This ritual pushed her to be on the lookout for all those little ways her children were growing, helping, learning, and being in the world. And her kids ended each day with a powerful affirmation.
Sometimes we forget how much learning happens in ordinary moments—and how we can use their excitement and wonder to propel further growth.
For example, maybe your child suddenly expresses an interest in cooking. Great! A four-year-old might not be able to make pancakes on their own yet, but this is an opportunity to practice for them to practice sorting, measuring, mixing, and following directions—key math and executive function skills. Right there, they are growing before your eyes while engaging in a task they care about.
Talk About All the Ways They Will Grow
We’ve all heard kids say in frustration, “I can’t do it!” Part of our job, after the emotional storm has settled, is to remind them that they can’t do it yet. Every skill takes time to learn. They will get there—and they will get there faster because they want to learn. Their frustration is a signal that this is something that matters to them!
Ask kids what they want to learn, and really listen to their answers. What new skills? What new experiences? What are they looking forward to? This teaches us a lot about our kids and can give us information about how to support and celebrate their growth. We can also help by previewing new things they will learn in school and at home in the next year or two.
My friend Margaret makes this a birthday ritual: “At birthday time, we sit down with the child and review the skills they should have learned that year and what they will be learning the coming year. We try to make it celebratory: ‘Wow, you learned to make your own lunch, wipe off the table, sweep, and clean windows this year! This coming year, you’ll learn to sew a button, make grilled cheese, and clean a bathroom. You are growing up!’”
My latest book, You Are Growing All the Time, is dedicated to Fred Rogers because his insight about “growing on the inside” guides so much of my work as a parent and educator. As he wrote:
“‘Growing on the inside’ are the words I use when I talk with children about such things as learning to wait, learning to keep on trying, being able to talk about their feelings, and to express those feelings in constructive ways. These signs of growth need at least as much notice and applause as the outward kind, and children need to feel proud of them.”
Deborah Farmer Kris is a child development expert and parent educator. She serves as a columnist and consultant for PBS KIDS, and she writes for NPR’s MindShift and other national publications. Over the course of her career, Deborah has taught almost every grade K–12, served as a school administrator, directed leadership institutes, and presented to hundreds of parents and educators around the United States. Deborah and her husband live in Massachusetts with their two kids—who love to test every theory she’s ever had about child development. Mostly, she loves sharing nuggets of practical wisdom that can help kids and families thrive. Visit her at Parenthood365.com.
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