Family Life


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Rule #2: Teach your kids about how to figure out a process

Girl doing homework - rule #2: teach your kids about how to figure out a processI used to watch our seven-year-old sit at the kitchen table trying to do her homework.

It’d sometimes take her hours to get through on a worksheet or small project. Before she’d start, she’d spend a bunch of the time staring off into the middle distance.

In the old days of parenting, it’d be easy to write this off as a kid who was bored, or who couldn’t focus. But we’re in the New, Enlightened Age of Parenting (heavy use of sarcasm there) and I wondered if there wasn’t more that was going on.

So one day, I asked her.

“Why are you having trouble with this,” I asked. “I don’t know,” she responded.

This is an important statement. I think that when your kid says “I don’t know,” in a situation like this, it’s an invitation to engage, to work together and figure things out. So I asked her more questions. I asked her what she was working on. I asked her how she was going to approach the worksheet. I asked her what she was going to do first. “I don’t know,” was the answer.

That last question created the lightbulb moment – she simply didn’t know where to start. The reason for that was that she looked at a worksheet as a single thing, rather than a series of steps. To her, it was like trying to climb a mountain in one, determined leap.

One of the most important things I’ve every learned in life is that the “process” is often more important that the result. Want to lose weight? Focus on the steps required to lose it and the numbers will follow. Want to clean the house efficiently? Follow a process and it gets done. Want to improve in your career? Map out a strategy.

And while this all seems obvious, we are a world that is focused almost entirely on the results. Open a report card, you’ll look for the As, Bs and Cs first. Your bathroom doesn’t have a checklist for your weight loss process, it has a scale. You don’t talk about the steps it took to get a promotion, you talk about the promotion.

I like results as much as the next guy, but of late, my focus has been on process and behaviours. I’ve been teaching all the kids how to break down anything that looks hard. It’s not one tough worksheet, it’s six steps you follow in an order. 

Break it down. Break everything down and just about anything is possible. Learn how to build a process for writing a high school essay, building an argument with your university boyfriend, finding your next job. If the kids can figure out how to make smarter processes, all of life gets a whole lot easier.

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