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Overcoming the Challenges of Learning a New Skill

From time to time my kids cry over their school assignments because they find them hard.  Here are some examples:

  • One of my more competent children through tears told me that he didn’t want to learn piano anymore because it was too hard.  He kept playing the same song but there was always a mistake.  No matter how he practiced, his fingers just wouldn’t land on the right keys.
  • Today, a different child cried about how difficult her typing lesson was because it was all about typing special punctuation marks such as ?, “, and :.
  • After a swim lesson at the swim school, I discovered a child crying because she was learning a new swimming stroke and it was hard to master.
  • One child struggled tremendously with writing because words didn’t come easy to him and punctuation stumped him.  Frustrations eventually led to tears.
  • Another child struggled to read and realized she is not as fluent as the other children.

With nine years of homeschooling experience, I have more crying stories to tell.  I think from time to time they just need to cry a little, and I let them cry – but not to the point of sulking and dwelling on it.  It’s a great opportunity to talk to them about perseverance, diligence, patience, and character.

It is important to discuss with them the exact problem they are experiencing, the reason they are crying, and what we can do about it.  Learning a new skill is just plain hard, whether for children or for adults.  It is natural to hit a wall and feel stuck.  Our reaction is frustration.  As adults we know better not to cry, most of the time, but for children, tears are very natural.

First, I ask them specifically what is causing their distress, and they can often tell me the exact problem.  I want my children to know that I’m in it with them because they are not left alone to deal with the problem.  I have them show me the situation and together we work on it.  Usually I’m able to give them few pointers to ease the problem.  If a new piano piece is causing so much emotions, we can break up the song into sizable chunks.

Second, I tell them that doing something hard and have a new skill stump them is perfectly normal.  In fact, we should expect that.  We simply need to persevere and work hard.  Through patience and perseverance, we can learn the new skill, but just don’t have the idea that it will happen overnight.

Third, I point them to their past successes.  For the child who was struggling to learn breaststroke swimming style, I pointed her back to the time when she didn’t know how to swim to eventually learning freestyle and backstroke.  She overcame the fear of water, learned two different swimming styles, and is currently a competent swimmer.  She should take pride in these accomplishments.  Her past successes should encourage her to persevere as she works through the new swimming style.

Lastly, I tell my kids that working through something difficult shapes their character and this is very important.  If I let them quit, they will never learn to work through challenges to achieve greater things.  I want my children to know that I, too, struggle with learning new things and I, too, get frustrated.  They are not alone.  Even as an adult, I have the same struggle.  I also have to persevere and work things through.

I am encouraged that my children typically have a renewed spirit after such talk.  They are able to move past their tears and work through the problem… until next time. 🙂

Posted in Homeschooling.


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