Parents can't teach everything

Sometimes kids can learn better from friends and siblings, or on their own

Published Apr 13, 2013 at 05:00AM

Sometimes it’s out of our hands.

Right, parents? Aren’t there times when no matter how hard you try, no matter how much you want to help, your kid just has to figure it out for himself? Or someone else is better at teaching a particular skill than you are?

We don’t want to admit it. We’d like to think we can pass on all manner of knowledge and skills to our children, be an endless font of wisdom. But the truth is, in some matters, parents can’t help.

Sometimes our kids are their own best teachers.

My eldest son, Harrison, once asked me to teach him how to whistle. I tried, I really did. Pucker just so, I’d say. You have to get the tension of your lips right. Don’t just blow as hard as you can, find the right pressure.

All my advice resulted in was a 6-year-old going red in the face from all the huffing and puffing, his lips drawn into a comical “O” of cartoon proportions. Nothing I said helped. No amount of demonstrating proper whistling technique improved his skill.

Then, several weeks later, he ran up to me, all smiles, and squeaked out the cutest whistle this side of the “Little Rascals.” He did it, and not because of my assistance or instruction, but because he’d practiced and figured it out for himself.

But even when kids do need help learning a new skill, it isn’t always mom or dad who can best provide the instruction. Sometimes our kids’ best teachers are their peers.

My youngest son, Jack, has struggled to learn to ride his bike. We despaired, my husband and I, that at age 7, he hadn’t yet conquered this critical skill. But he didn’t seem to particularly care.

We tried to teach him. We’d instruct him to pedal, balance, go faster! You can do it! We’d hold onto the back of the bike as he halfheartedly pushed on the pedals, never quite understanding the relationship between speed and balance. He lost interest in trying. He didn’t want to practice. He didn’t want to listen to our instructions and encouragement.

Eventually, every time we offered to teach him to ride his bike, he found something else to do. He happily cruised around on his little scooter. Or rolled Hot Wheels down the driveway.

We stopped pushing it, fearing it would backfire into him hating bikes if we pressured him too much to ride one. And so another year passed in which he didn’t even try.

Then one day a few weeks ago, our sons announced they were going to ride bikes/scooters around the neighborhood.

“OK, but no scooters. Jack can ride his bike if he wants, but no scooters,” said my husband, knowing full well Jack couldn’t ride his bike at all.

I winced to watch his pouting face walk out the door. I was afraid of pushing too hard on the bike-riding thing.

But the look on my husband’s face suggested I shouldn’t interfere; let him pout.

About 20 minutes later, both boys came flying in the front door, their smiles shining and their cheeks ruddy with cold and joy.

“I rode my bike!” Jack yelled. “Come watch!”

We dutifully filed outside to watch Jack jump on his little bike (already too small for him, despite its limited use). He pointed the front wheel down the street, pushed awkwardly on the pedals and wobbled on his merry way, glancing back every few seconds to make sure we were watching.

We were, all three of us — mom, dad and beaming big brother, who in the end was the bike-riding teacher Jack needed.

I didn’t teach Jack to ride his bike. Neither did his dad. Sometimes it’s out of our hands as parents.

But on that day, in that moment, I couldn’t have been more proud of either son.

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