Can’t Stop Teaching

I believe in transferable skills. I think nothing you learn is wasted. I spent my summers as a teenager keeping my father’s online bibliography updated and later that knowledge of HTML got me the kudos I needed to be asked to teach my peers computer skills at university. This experience then got me a part-time job in the UK, where I finished my degree, and that experience in turn looked good enough on my CV to get a teaching job in an FE college fresh from my English-as-a-Foreign-Language teacher training. In fact, the position vacant was for teaching IT to immigrants who were learning English. The job was just meant for me.

IT classroom

Old classroom

Anyway, I am now no longer teaching English or IT. I am now teaching an 8 month old and a 2 and a half year old about the world. I teach them about food: what it tastes like, how to eat it, what society expects of you vis-a-vis cutlery, what the meals of the day are called, how eating lots of snacks before a meal fills you up so you’re not hungry for the meal anymore, that food comes from a shop where you have to pay for it before you’re allowed to tuck in and that it requires preparation at home, during which time Mummy is very stressed and cranky and unlikely to look favourably on repeated requests for bread sticks.

I am also teaching them about gravity, balance, the economy, road safety, speed, concentration, delayed gratification, time, seasons, distance, rhythm, rhyme, sharing, turn taking, friendship, missing people, disappointment, unfairness, saying sorry when you’ve messed up and that brushing your teeth is non-optional.

Oh, and I’m probably also teaching them English and IT.

And it struck me the other day, that there are many techniques and skills that I learned as a teacher that are very useful in parenting as well. I’ll share a few with you here:

1. Let them try things out for themselves: Don’t jump in and do the puzzle for them, impatient for it to be done, or worried that they’ll be scarred for life if they can’t do it. Give them a fair chance to try it out for themselves. They’ll ask for your help if they need it. Your confidence in them will give them confidence in themselves.

New classroom

New classroom

2. Keep instructions short and to the point: Imagine you’re a beginner, learning a new language, and the teacher says “Now, what I want you to do today is- basically, we’re going to learn about the past tense, which is talking about the past, and to do that I’d like you to sit with a friend, or just someone next to you, why don’t you find a partner, or maybe I’ll just split you up into pairs, we’ll start here…” You get the idea. You’d probably panic and possibly run out of the room. Toddlers have the language, but not the patience to listen to lots of waffle. They have playing to do. “Coat, please,” is about long enough for an instruction.

3. Make praise specific: I clearly praise my toddler a lot, because he praises me back. “Well done, Mummy,” he tells me when I have switched on his favourite TV show. But just “well done” is meaningless. If you want your praise to have the desired effect – that is, to affirm and encourage the good thing your child did – you need to make sure they know what it is they did that was so good. “Good painting” is okay; “I love those colours, they’re so bright” is better. “Good boy” means very little; “Well done for giving Tom back his truck” will help your toddler know what it was about his behaviour that was good.

4. Model best practice: If you’re a teacher trainer, you’d better be a good teacher yourself. If you are teaching IT, it doesn’t look good for your students’ knowledge of hardware to be more up to date than yours (as I found to my detriment…) If you are teaching your children how to live, you need to model best practice. I know. This is tough. But if you want them to handle the cat gently, it is not good for them to see you chucking him out the back door shouting “And don’t come back!”. If you want them to share their treats, they can’t see you refusing to give him and Daddy a piece of your ginormous chocolate bar. (All true examples from real life). By all means, get angry, be mean, hormonal, stressed, anxious, tired. Just model for them how to deal with those emotions positively, and how to apologise for the less than ideal things you do when you are feeling them.

I had to battle constantly to remind myself of these principles when I was teaching; the same is true now that I am a parent. Just knowing what might be good practice doesn’t mean you do it automatically, sadly. But every now and then, I will remember to give specific praise before I’ve opened my mouth, or I will remember after an angry outburst that I am meant to model for my son how to live, and I can apologise to him for shouting and tell him I love him.

How about you: what transferable skills have you got from your Career Before Parenting that you fall back on now?


14 responses

  1. Thought-provoking. I love the quote, ‘brushing teeth is non-optional’! I’m really lucky as I trained as a nursery nurse straight from school, then worked with children for twenty years before going back to do Journalism at Uni as a mature student. I bring all the tricks of the nannying trade with me, along with the greatest of all which links in with Journalism’s feature writing – story telling. Nannying gave me a built in understanding of children’s behaviour, and a whole host of tips for an ‘easier’ life as a parent, except of course that as a mum, you have to deal with emotions like guilt. What is interesting though is you raising praising our kids. And how we praise our kids. I’ve recently written a 3 page feature on this subject for the Autumn 2013 issue of Baby London, and my blog is where it began… I will of course link the article it to LIFE AS IT IS at the time the mag is out but we should never under-estimate how praising our children, encourages them to be happy, confident and independent.

    In the meantime, if I can share my top ten tips of positive parenting with you:

    1) Make sure your praise is genuine and meaningful.

    2) Praise effort as well as achievement.

    3) Use positivity, praise and hugs to reinforce good behaviour, and do your best to ignore less desirable behaviour.

    4) Use distraction e.g. when your child is too boisterous, lead them into a quiet activity.

    5) Keep in mind that toddlers will gradually understand how you want them to behave.

    6) Do not laugh at bad behaviour; try to lead by example.

    7) Remember to criticise the action, rather than the child.

    8) Try to pre-empt a negative situation coming and turn it on its head.

    9) If you say or do something you regret, explain that you did not mean it and say you are sorry with a cuddle.

    10) Consistency is key.


    • Can’t believe I haven’t replied to this yet!! What an excellent list of tips, you are clearly very well trained in parenting. The things I particularly need to work on is preventing negative situations before they arise and distracting into a quiet activity. My life would be much better if i did that more often!

  2. This is a great post! Always useful to look back and see what skills we learn in a ‘past life’ (before children) and are using now…..not sure that speaking French helps in any way other than ordering food in France! Great tips too. Thank you x

  3. What a great post. Being a driving instructor I have to be clear with my instructions, make specific points and also ask open questions to ensure maximum feedback. I use all your points and feel they are so important to help form a child’s understanding. Thanks for linking to PoCoLo lovely x

  4. What???? We have to share our chocolate with them AND Daddy…*looks at fine print in the contract*..
    No, seriously as ever a really interesting post, Judith, and you are so right. Sometimes I catch my two watching me and how I’m doing things, and it is easy to forget that they are learning from you all the time. x

  5. This is such an inspiring and fascinating post at the same time. It’s brilliant to see the way you approach learning with your children and I shall be following these posts with interest as the girls are very close in age to your two. Thanks for this.

    • Thanks! I have always been very good and studious at theory, it’s the application I struggle with. Lovely that your girls are a similar age, I love comparing notes and discovering everything is normal. 🙂 (or that nothing is of course)

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