Helping Children Grow New Skills

While watching lots of new things sprout and grow this Spring, I have been reminded that new skills are a lot like plants. A seed doesn’t grow into a full flower immediately. It needs care and nurturing along the way. So, if you are working with your child to learn something new, like how to share, for example, how would you raise that new skill from a seed into a flower?

Plant the seed. If you want your child to learn something new, you need to pre-teach your child what you want them to do. That is like planting the seed for the new skill. So, for example, if your want your child to share with their friends, you would want to break that skill down into simple steps. That might sound like “When you are playing with your friends and they ask if they can play with your toy, you can say ‘I will be done in two minutes’. Then you can play for two more minutes. Then you can give your friend a turn. That is sharing.”

Let the seed unfurl. Just like a seed doesn’t grow into a flower overnight, it can take time for a skill to develop. Your child is not likely to be able to do something perfectly the first (or second or even tenth) time that they try. They need time and often help to practice new skills. And you may need patience as they develop their new skills.

Feed the growing flower. Just like a growing plant needs water and sunlight, when your child is learning a new skill, they need praise and encouragement to motivate them to keep practicing and growing that skill. Letting your child know that you can see their effort (even if the skill is not yet fully developed) is very important, particularly if the skill is a difficult one. So, if your child lets their friend know that they will share a toy but then forgets to actually give them the toy, you could say “I really liked the way you told your friend that they could play with your toy in two minutes. That was a great start. I can help you keep track of the two minutes so that you can give your friend a turn.” Just like you would not criticize a flower for growing too slowly, if your child is taking some time to develop a skill, rather than telling them about what they are not doing, you can acknowledge that they are working hard. So, if your child is having a hard time remembering to share, you could say something like “I know that you want to be friendly and I know that it can still be hard to share your toy. Let’s try again next time and you and I can practice sharing before we see your friend again.” Sometimes it can be easier for a child to practice a skill with their parent at home when it is quiet than in the middle of a game with a friend. Setting aside time to practice and role play with your child can be really helpful. And, just like some plants need more fertilizer than others, if your child is struggling with learning a skill, you may want to set up a star chart so that your child can track their progress.

Enjoy the flower! Once your child has fully developed the new skill, be sure to praise their hard work.

Just like growing a garden, helping your child learn new skills takes time and patience. Once the skills bloom, you will see that all of the hard work is worth it!

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