How to set your kids up for success

Toddler and mother playing together

How to set your kids up for success


How to set your kids up for success


You’ve heard of teachable moments, right? That’s a nice way of saying your kid made a mistake and you need to teach them something so they don’t make that mistake again.

Well, I have “learnable moments.”

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That’s a nice way of saying I made a mistake and had to learn from it!

One of my more laugh-out-loud learnable moments happened years ago, on a very important night for me as a school counselor. We were expecting an auditorium full of parents, I was an important part of the presentation, and of course, my husband had to go out of town!

No problem.

I hired one of my freshman students to babysit my 3 and  5-year-old sons in the Career Center, and I had recently purchased my first cell phone, so I could be reached easily in an emergency.

Being Proactive Mother (sounds like a superhero, yes? maybe not—keep reading!)

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I took the extra step of teaching my older son to use the phone in the Career Center (dialing 9 for an outside line was a new skill), and cautioned him to only call me in an emergency!

Twenty minutes later, I’m down in the auditorium, it’s my turn to speak, and my phone starts to ring! What could possibly have happened in 20 minutes?

Of course, I answered, and on the other end of the line, my son’s tremulous voice whispered, “We’re out of milk!”

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Note to self: Just because my kid can use a word correctly in a sentence doesn’t mean he actually understands the concept behind the word!

Proactive Mother should have engaged the 5-year-old in a discussion and created categories that would help him understand what constituted an emergency:

1. Someone is hurt.

2. Younger brother is lost (this was the child who would frequently go on what Winnie the Pooh refers to as “an explore” with no fear and no adult).

3. Anything else can wait until Mommy gets back.

Did you take time for training?

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If you’re having moments when your child isn’t meeting your expectations or seems to have a different understanding of a concept than you do, ask yourself: Have I taken time for training?

Taking time for training is so fundamental, and yet, it’s so easy to overlook! We make assumptions that because WE know what we’re talking about, our kids do, too, and then we start speaking in generalities:

You need to be good at school.

Make sure your room is clean!

Don’t stay out too late.

What does training look like?

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Depending on what you’re trying to teach, with younger children, you can…

  • Create a checklist together with the criteria for a “clean” room so your child can check off each step before asking you to approve the final product.
  • Role play good behavior at school/a restaurant/etc. Take turns demonstrating a behavior and identifying whether it fits in the “yes” or “no” category. Make this a game—have fun with it!
  • Help your child draw a picture of what the final result should look like (for instance, a correctly set table) and put it where they can see it when doing that task.

With teens:

  • Turn the clean room checklist into a “backpack is ready for tomorrow” checklist, to teach organizational skills.
  • Talk about where your child is going, what time you expect them to return, and what will happen if they are late; post the agreement where it can be seen and referenced, as needed.
  • Watch for articles in the paper or online about topics that could pose a danger to your teen: information about street drugs, effects of alcohol and other drugs on the developing brain, texting while driving, etc. Ask your child to read the article and tell you three things they learned from it, and use that as a starting point for “What would you do if…?” discussions.

If you get eye rolling, tell them that information is power, and you want to help them feel powerful. Having conversations in calm moments will arm them with tools to pull out of their tool belt when they face peer pressure and tough choices.

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Recommendation: don’t try to do all that in one discussion, and be careful not to lecture! Dribble it out over several conversations because several short ones will have a more lasting impact on your child’s memory than a long one.

It’s worth noting that, once your kid masters a skill and you’re feeling really satisfied with the results of all your hard work, they enter a new stage of development and the training has to start all over.

That’s ok! Taking time for training is about setting your child up for success, in the moment and in the long-run. It’s an investment in who you want them to become, and it’s worth every hour that you put into it!

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