Show Me How!

I had the pleasure of demonstrating a woodworking skill to a young National Guardsman this week and it got me thinking about how much we take such skills for granted as parents.


The young man was home on leave after a training assignment somewhere overseas. He was obviously very capable and a fast learner. We were helping install flooring in his home and he kept watching us carefully, as if taking in every detail.


When we got to his room, I asked if he had ever used a chop saw. He said no and I replied, “Would you like to?” I briefly described four or five steps to cutting a board off while keeping all your fingers. He quickly mastered about 80 percent of the steps on his first try and returned after a few minutes with the next board. A couple of hours later, his room had a finished floor.


Showing someone else how to do something we know how to do will lengthen how long it takes to get the job done. That’s probably the main reason we continue to do it ourselves.


How will our children function in life if we don’t take time over the years to allow them to try their own hand at the things of everyday life? They don’t learn skills by watching us; although that helps. They won’t do it right the first time they try. Only after some practice will they feel capable of doing what we have taught them, assuming we are willing to step back and help them learn.


Try these three basic steps. Notice their interest in something you are doing. Ask if them want to try it. Give them a manageable portion to learn and step back to give them room to practice. Another way to view the process is to show them, explain it to them and then allow them to try.


Children are not likely to enjoy learning things that do not interest them. Giving them some room to learn and grow will likely increase the number of things they are willing to try. Think of it as developing their curiosity rather than teaching them life skills. If we encourage their curiosity, they will be willing to tackle lots of new things. Asking if they are interested only confirms that interest before starting to issue instructions.


Selecting a bite-sized portion to learn is critical to their success. We don’t start with house building or playing a symphony on the piano; we must choose something within their ability to learn that contains a few simple steps they can practice.


Of course, practice is the key. Installing 100 square feet of flooring would require dozens of cuts on the saw. Perfect! The challenge of a power tool with the safety of a stationary base and a good guard on the blade made this task well within reach. Much less dangerous tasks await our toddlers and elementary school children. But don’t wait until they are grown to start teaching.


What could you allow your child to stir in the kitchen or move in the carport? Why not encourage our children to corral the leaves in the yard rather than paying someone to come and remove them? Are you allowing them to order their own food at the restaurant counter? Have you encouraged them to ask for their own refills?


Give your child the gift of skills. They can do lots of things on their own. Show, tell and allow. You can do it!

Dr. Matt Crain writes weekly for the Sunday newspaper from his Connecting Fathers and Families ministry.