Many people don’t like shooting guns. I actually used to be one of these people. Honestly, I used to think that there were people who were born good at shooting guns, as well as people who were good at other skills, like cooking and gardening too. And that there were people, like me, who were not born with such gifts; like shooting guns.
Whether you like guns or don’t is not the point of this article though. The point is that learning to shoot a gun or learning to cook gourmet dishes are essentially the same processes as learning to do any set of skills well; even parenting.
When I first shot a full sized hunting riﬂe, the recoil from the blast knocked me over. I was not prepared. Preparing for recoil is just one of the skills required for shooting guns. Other skills are how to load the gun, how to clean the gun, how to aim the gun, and how to hit the mark that is being aimed for.
Similarly, when I was a young parent of my oldest child, the first tantrum my toddler had left me feeling out of control and unprepared for how to handle those types of child raising situations. Tantrums often leave parents feeling knocked down.
However, unlike shooting guns, I didn’t have anyone to teach me the skills I was missing. Additionally, like most parents, I didn’t even know there was anything I could do besides try to manipulate my child out of the emotions. I was totally on the defensive.
Now I know tantrums are easily changed into good teaching moments by teaching the children how to communicate effectively and how to problem solve prior to the moment of frustration which leads to a tantrum. Teaching children how to asses their calmness, how to disagree appropriately, how to say “okay”, and how to accept a correction and consequence are all skills that can be taught and practiced ahead of time so that the child is ready to succeed during the next disappointing moment or parent correction.
Steps of Skills Mastery for Any Skill Set
- Identify the need for a skill: What skill do you wish you were more conﬁdent at? What relationships are causing you grief? What is the most important problem you need to solve right now? Do you have the skills you need? If so, what skill needs more practice? If not, who can mentor you to help you see what you are lacking?
- Get the proper skills training: This step is difﬁcult for many people because it requires admitting that they need help in some way. With historically ‘normal’ adult skills like parenting, hunting, cooking and gardening, most people assume that once they reach a certain age or phase in life they are expected to just know or be able to figure out certain skills. They attempt gardening and parenting based on what they have seen and hope for the best. But, there are always skills that are not seen. A gardener knows that preparing the soil before planting is vital to the success of a crop. The good parent knows that being calm and teaching a child to be calm is foundational to solving any behavior problem.
If you need more parenting mentoring, get it. Talk to great parents you know. Have them tell you how they solve the hard problems. Learn skills like how to correct a problem calmly, and how to help a child choose calmness. Learn how to effectively praise children and how to pre-teach them the skill they will need.
- Practice many times before you use the skill in a real situation: If there is one mistake parents make it is this, they don’t practice their parenting skills before they actually need to use the skills.
When I first started my training to become a foster parent I was required to role play the skills I was expected to use with the youth every day. This role playing felt awkward. Just like role playing how to shoot and load a gun feels awkward too.
When there is nothing to shoot it seems silly to practice handling the gun and firing it without a bullet in it. But, when the shooter is ﬁnally on the hunt all the dry practice comes back to the hunter and they use the skill as they planned. Musicians understand that role playing the performance is very important.
The most awkward of all life skills to role play are the parenting and relationship skills. Not only should parents role play what skills they want to use in parenting interactions before using them, but children should be taught the skills they need, like how to follow instructions and how to disagree appropriately, before they need to use the skill in a real interaction. Role playing ahead of time gives children and parents the conﬁdence and experience they need to do something deliberately in a real life situation in the future. It also helps family members to see their interactions more objectively in ‘the heat of the moment’ since they have practiced situations when there wasn’t any emotion.
- Regularly practice the proper technique (even if you think you are good at the skill already): I remember a moment that occurred a few months after my initial foster parenting training. My foster child had stolen something and I didn’t remember my skill for calmly correcting a negative behavior. My face became frustrated. My voice was annoyed and judge-mental. Still I didn’t catch myself misbehaving and being selﬁsh. Then, my foster child said, “Excuse me, Can I disagree appropriately? I know you want to correct me, but you are not having a calm face, voice and body.”
This simple skill used effectively by my foster child brought me back to myself. I knew that I needed to do a calm, effective correction with the skills that I had pre-taught her I would use in this situation. It was apparent to me that my training was not over yet. So, for the next little while, and even to this day, I undertook practicing the parenting skills I needed on a regular basis. I go over parenting situations in my mind and role play the words and body language I need to have. And, I verbally go over situations with my children and my spouse using ofﬁcial role plays to practice interacting the ‘right way.’
I am more conﬁdent these days at shooting guns because my husband has practiced with me time and time again. And, I have done some pantomime practice and mental practice as well. Role playing the desired shooting skills makes me feel ready for my next hunting trip. My preparedness has chased away any fears I had.
Parenting is the hardest set of skills anyone ever has to master. If we all take it as seriously as learning how to shoot a gun or cooking good food, because it is just as essential a skill, then we will practice the skills more often. Even though it is uncomfortable to act out parenting situations it prepares the whole family for happiness and relationship success.
As a side note, role playing as a family a is also a lot of fun. As part of teaching your family vital communication skills, practice (role play), and enjoy making great memories while improving your family communications at the same time.
Life is hard these days. There are many stresses and concerns around us. Help your family be a haven away from the confusion and frustration of the world by deliberately improving your communication.
Teach yourself and your family self-government skills here.