Childhood is a magical time. For the child, everything they see and do is a new experience in one way or another, a chance to interact with and learn from the world in a different way. As parents, we marvel at how our children seem to change and grow from one day to the next, and it feels like if we blink, we’ll miss a milestone – or two, or three.
It’s easy to get caught up in how much our children are learning, from talking, to walking, to tying shoes, to reading, to playing musical instruments. We often forget the importance of children being allowed to show us what they know, for them to feel like they can teach us. If at any point recently you’ve studied for a test, learned a new skill, or tried to walk someone through using a piece of technology over the phone, then you know how much better you reinforce what you know when you teach it. That’s why we have 3 related activities to try with your child today, depending on how old they are. And, since it’s almost the end of the year, we’ll make these holidays themed, too!
Around this time in when children develop their “theory of mind” – that is, they begin to understand that other people might have different opinions or ideas than they do. This makes it a great time to work with your child to be considerate of other people’s feelings, and to let them guide your behavior and reinforce their newfound understanding, too. The holidays are the perfect time to practice generosity, since this is an idea that children will encounter in the world at this time of year. Here is an activity you can try with your young child:
-Ask your child what toy they would like to donate so that another child could have a new toy to play with. Ask them why they chose that toy to give, and why they think it would make another child happy. Make sure they go with you to donate it to the organization you’ve chosen.
By this age, children have started to further develop their fine motor skills, and an understanding of how everyday tasks can be, and should be, done. This is also a time by which your child may be finding ways to get out of doing what you ask them to do, since they understand that words mean different things, or only certain words are used in certain situations. This is a great opportunity for them to learn the importance of following directions, and of how to use language clearly:
-With everyone on break for the holidays, it’s the perfect time to take care of everyone’s “favorite” task – cleaning up.
Chances are, no matter how much you hate cleaning up, your child probably hates it more! That’s why having them make the plan for how best to clean up the house allows them to focus their energy not on doing something they won’t want to do, but on accomplishing a task that needs to get done. Let your child determine which room to start in, and give them some say in where things should be put away. This way, they’ll be invested in making sure things get done, because it’s on their terms!
Around this time, academics start to get a little more intense for students. More is expected of them in the classroom, and they are sent home with more than just drawing or matching exercises for homework. By now, they’ve started to figure out some things coming more naturally to them than other things, be it sports, academics, or arts, and probably enjoy doing those things more. Of course, that means that schoolteachers (or parents) are asking them to spend more time on the things they’re not so good at, which can be pretty frustrating! That’s why we suggest the following:
-Instead of insisting your child sit down with you to memorize more history facts, or go to another soccer practice, or try painting that picture again, have she or he walk you through doing something that they ARE good at! Perhaps they really enjoy practicing yo-yo-ing. While this may not be your idea of a good time, why not let them teach you a trick or two, and put on a performance for the family, together? Or let them record you doing something they taught you and show it to their friends?
-Or, maybe they’ve found out they really enjoy learning Chinese, while you can’t make heads or tails of the language? Let them teach you the different tones, or how to say a few words – let them be the expert, and get a newfound pleasure out of being good at something that may be uniquely theirs to enjoy!
One of the greatest gifts you can give your child is showing them that it’s ok to make mistakes, it’s ok to not succeed at first, and it’s ok to keep practicing and trying to get better at something. Set the example of being ok with not being perfect, of helping others to grow, and of enjoying the process of hard work and generosity. There’s no better time than this holiday season to start!