To Build Confidence and Competence, Take Time to Explain
I heard a story on the radio about a robotics team at UC Berkeley that tried to develop a robot that could fold laundry. For a robot, folding laundry turned out to be incredibly difficult. “Once you start working in robotics,” noted the lead professor, "you realize the things that kids learn to do up to age 10...are actually the hardest things to get a robot to do."
The story contains an important lesson for us parents. It turns out that a lot of things we see as “simple,” the things we do every day, are in fact extremely complex to children.
We may think that children learn just by watching, but often they need us to show them how to accomplish things. It’s not our role to do it for them, but sometimes we do need to take the time to show and explain to them step-by-step how something is done. When a child has a hard time doing something, helping him learn how something is done will build his confidence and competence.
In general, this idea of “training” takes four steps:
- Explain with kindness the task as you perform it, while the child watches.
- Do the task together. (A sense of humor helps!)
- Have your child do it by himself while you supervise.
- When he feels ready, let him perform the task on his own.
So, let’s say I’m interested in teaching my child how to dress himself. Rather than just doing it and assuming that he is paying attention, clearly explain each step. (That will also show you how complicated getting dressed actually is!)
“When you put on your pants, you hold them in front of your body and make sure this tag is in the back. Then you sit down on the floor, put one hand on each side of the waistband, and put your right leg into the right leg hole. Make sure your foot is sticking all the way out of the pants otherwise you won’t be able to pull them up…” You get the idea.
Once this habit of helping is part of your parenting, you’ll find that competence builds on itself: You may teach her how to put on socks when she’s young but as she grows up, you’ll teach her how to manage their calendar for the week or how to plan and cook a healthy meal. When a child begins to build confidence at a young age, she will be moving toward becoming a confident and competent preteen, teen, and adult. Don’t we all want that?