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I have two children, 6 and 9 years old. I find it very hard to teach them skills or school subjects and I wonder if there are any tricks or methods to it? It seems my children are much more eager to learn if it's an outsider teaching them.

When I or my wife try to teach them skills we are actually good at (I'm a ski instructor, my wife has many years of music school behind her) it invariably ends in the child giving up way too easily. When they have to learn something, like a new song for a performance, they work hard at the music school and they usually give their best at the actual performance, yet at home when we help it often ends up with arguments, sometimes bitter ones.

This dynamic is more pronounced with the older son, but is visible in both children to some extent. Now it's possible me and my wife are just bad teachers, but many of my friends say they noticed the same thing with their children.

I've started thinking that maybe it's hard for them to accept criticism and straight talk from somebody who is otherwise usually their emotional rock, quick to dismiss "unpleasant" things or turn them into a joke - which doesn't work when you have to understand a theorem, master a technique or learn the notes by heart.

Does anybody notice the same thing with their children? And is there a way to make this easier?

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    This is a really good question! I also have observed this in my own kids, and by parents' reports, children whom I have taught as well. I hope you get some good responses. How old are your children, btw? – anongoodnurse Apr 12 at 23:08
  • They are 6 and 9 - it's harder with the older one and has always been, but now he seems to be at an age when it's getting harder still. – gregopet Apr 13 at 4:32
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I don't have an academic answer unfortunately, but experientially, for the most part the biggest issue seems to be that the mindset of the child is different in a conversation with their parents than with a teacher.

My children were entirely differently behaved in daycare versus at home, when they were younger. My oldest refused to nap under any circumstances at home from about 18 months on - unless we had done something incredibly tiring such that he fell asleep in the car or the stroller, anyway; if we tried to put him down for a nap at home it was two hours' wasted time on our part. But at daycare, he was the best napper in the class - napped 2.5 hours a day, went right down. Being in a different environment led him to have a different set of habits.

My younger son (6) goes to a Montessori school, and he still exhibits this to a remarkable degree. At home he is silly and hard to keep focused, even for six; if you saw him you’d think he had ADHD.

But at school he’s a totally different person. He is the most focused kid in his age group. He complains constantly about the other kids not paying attention when he tries to teach them things. His teacher raves about his focus and ability to complete tasks.

We have been able to leverage this at home- by getting him into ‘school mode’. This started when I had some trouble at bedtime and would ask him questions about school - he’d quiet right down and immediately become serious and talk about it. We learned that we could use this to teach him tasks, and are able to get through to him a lot more easily than we could before.

As an example, I taught him to clean the bathroom last month, one section per week. Montessori lessons work by focusing on showing - doing - teaching (show, then they do it, then they teach it), and by being very tactile and explicit. They follow concrete recipes, and usually have discrete sets of tools they set up before doing the task.

So I got a bucket with cleaning supplies in it, and put him in the school mindset by telling him we were going to give him a lesson (using the same words they use at school). I gave him a lesson modeled after one I saw during a parent meeting. He paid attention and then went to bathroom two and followed the instructions well. He’s now cleaned the toilet three times, and the third he did completely independently.

Comparing this to teaching him to fold laundry, which we’ve struggled with for months. I suspect here we have an issue - our oldest we get to fold by letting him watch a show while he folds. He works best with external incentives, so this works very well for him. But it breaks the school environment - so our youngest has a lot of trouble with what’s really an easier job, because he’s in fun at home mode not school mode.


Second, no matter what you try you’re going to have conflicting emotional baggage that makes it harder.

If your teacher tells you something, you’re used to taking that as constructive criticism (if you have decent teachers anyway). A parent saying something, though, seems more personal - just like if the gym instructor tells you to lose ten pounds versus if your spouse tells you the same thing, right?

That I’ve not really found a good way to work around, any more than I have a suggestion for how to talk to spouses about weight. Being cognizant of it is the most useful thing in my opinion - if you are aware your child is likely to take more personally your teaching, then you can adapt to be more sensitive.

I think there’s space here too to get out of parent mode - if you find yourself getting into a normal pattern where it will end in arguments, stop and get out of it. Identify what starts the pattern and break it. When i teach my seven year old something, I often get the ‘I know that dad’ or ‘duh’ - and I know I need to change the pattern. So I try to get him to show me the answers instead of showing him, and if it’s something in his wheelhouse he usually can. (But I haven’t figured this out totally yet sadly; if he can’t figure it out we tend to get stuck. Sigh. )

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    Apologies for the length, seem to have rambled some - I’ll try to condense some when I have more time and am on a pc not a phone. – Joe Apr 15 at 22:40
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The key problem as to why that would happen is due to cognitive biases, which deeply affect human decision makings and behaviors. In fact, bias is an indispensable part of every decision making in humans.

You may not be able to easily or quickly solve the bias issues, yet you might be able to probe and see where your child(ren) may have such biases. Then, if you wish, you may try to find ways to demean/lessen those biases.

Criticism may not be the best method to solve issues or build relationship with your children, and that might be a partial cause to said cognitive biases.

In sum, being a role model via behaviors as compared to speaking or magnifying faults might be something that might be worth looking into for easing and improving that difficult process.

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