Focus On Your Children’s “Easy” Skills Before Tackling the Difficult Stuff

Don’t take it easy when working on your children’s behaviour and when teaching them new things.

The easy stuff seems all too easy to speed through and we can get caught up in the flashier, more advanced stuff. Often when I’m working with new clients I get a lot of push back at first because what I’m asking them to do feels “too easy” as many of the activities and strategies I suggest to parents are very simple. Recently we actually modified ParentAbility so that it forces new members to spend some serious time on the foundational stuff. What was happening was that new members would come in, and they’d get shiny object syndrome and start sifting through the massive amount of neat resources we have in there and then they’d get overwhelmed and then stuck. This became a problem. We made changes so parents have to give the foundation it’s due before they can move on.

A mentor of mine reminded me of the importance of the small stuff. She is married to an elite sports coach who trained Olympic Athletes for Canada. Something she is always hammering at home is that the hard stuff is made up of the easy stuff. In order to master the big, hard stuff – we need to be really proficient at doing the small, easy stuff over and over and over again.

The key here is the ability to maintain competence at something over a longer period of time.

That’s what Walt Gretzky was getting at – your puck handling and fancy plays mean nothing if you can’t skate – skating is the foundation of hockey. If you’re a crap skater, you can’t play it at a high level! So you need to be focused on skating first. Not the game.

The same concept applies to children using their executive functioning skills and their self-regulation skills.

Grab the scripts for crazy-making behaviour and know exactly what to say next time your toddler, preschooler, or kindergartener isn't listening.

This is why we have restraint collapse after daycare or preschool or school. This is why your child can behave at daycare, but when they come home they lose their cool and can’t even remain mildly civil anymore! They put all their energy, focus and effort into using those skills with strangers! With kids the difficulty naturally keeps getting bumped up as they age. Our expectations of them keep getting higher and higher, but we haven’t helped them master those basic skills that make up the behaviours we expect to see in those situations. I often hear parents say, “I’m hoping they’ll grow out of it.” Which is basically the parenting equivalent to saying “I’m just hoping they figure it out.” But the research we have shows that no, they generally don’t. They just keep getting further and further behind, which means they’re using more and more energy to do less and less.

The lack of building the easy skills is why we have these school-aged children whose behaviour is just completely overwhelming, dangerous and uncontrollable – because they’re trying to meet the demands of a 7 year old with the same skills at the same proficiency level as they had when they were 2 or 3. It’s like throwing a toddler into a grade 1 class. That wouldn’t work! And then they get further behind as they struggle to catch up. It’s exhausting. It’s exhausting for your child, it’s exhausting for you, and it’s exhausting for everyone who is involved in your child’s care.

What do we need to focus on?

We need to be focusing on mastering these “easy” skills when they’re young – when they’re toddlers, preschoolers, and kindergarteners – before the focus of their day-to-day lives switches to academics. Give them a solid foundation! Practice the mechanics of them over and over and over again until they become second nature – exactly the same way that athletes do basic drills over and over again until they can literally do them blindfolded and half asleep. This way the bigger more advanced stuff that is built off of those basics are possible. They become possible with a high degree of competency over a long period of time. Then you will have well behaved kids all day at school and will still be civil and calm in the evening with you. It’s this repetition of the easy things that results in those amazing outcomes. These kids that are polite, and easy to get along with, and listen, and wait their turn doesn’t just happen! It’s something that they can practice and get better at. But if you don’t know what those skills are that make up the more advanced behaviours it can feel completely overwhelming and unachievable.

This is why I’m a parenting coach. I give you the drills, I plan the plays.

We don’t call it drills and plays when it comes to parenting, we call them activities, games and strategies – but it’s the same thing. I help you make a plan to practice and improve where your child needs it the most. I’m that outside perspective on what is working and what isn’t, and where the best use of your energy is, so that you can parent more efficiently. Your energy is going into the things that are going to make the biggest difference for your child long-term. You won’t have to guess what that is and hope you’re right because I have tools that I have used and developed over the last 15 years of working with children and their families to guide us. Practicing for small, manageable chunks every day – you’re going to find that parenting gets a lot easier, really quickly.

If you want to learn more about what exactly these skills are that I’m on about and how they all work together to solve challenging behavior, check out my free workshop: How to Raise Well-Behaved Kids Without Yelling, Shaming, or Time-Outs.

So what do you think? Does that make sense? That more advanced behaviours are made up of small, “easier” skills done really well really frequently?Let’s continue the conversation in my free peer support Facebook Group: Parenting Posse.

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About Allana

Hi, I’m Allana. I teach parents of toddlers and preschoolers why their children are misbehaving and what to do about it without yelling, shaming, or using time-outs. When not teaching parents about behaviour you can generally find me chasing around my two boys, reading cheesy romance novels, or hanging out with my own parents.

How to Raise Well-Behaved Kids Without Yelling, Shaming, or Time-Outs

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