What you need to know before you say "yes"

Think of teaching as a series of steps. The following is a five-step model for teaching kids anything. I call it the "5P's of Parenting."

  1. Protect your children -- from situations that are beyond their abilities.
  2. Prepare your children -- with information and skill-building activities.
  3. Practice each skill with your children -- while you supervise them,
  4. Prompt your children -- with reminders to use what they have learned.
  5. Preview new situations -- in which they may need modified or increased skill and allow for additional supervised practice.

This five-step process is the same whether you're teaching children how to brush their teeth or how to take a city bus. To prove my point, let's review how to teach the skill of riding your bike to school, something you've taught or will teach soon.

Here's how to apply the 5P's:

Before You Let Your Child Ride His Bike to School. . .

Protect: Your child from riding in the street when he is too young to learn, remember and use traffic safety rules. Insist that he stay on the sidewalk or playground and away from traffic.

Prepare: Your child with the rules for riding in traffic -- signaling, crossing intersections, staying to the right, etc. Caution him to be alert for cars that may not see him. Equip his bike with all the necessary reflectors and safety equipment. Review what to do in an emergency.


Practice: When the streets are quiet, go for practice rides along the route he will be following to school. Practice signaling and turning, crossing intersections safely, point out potential blind spots. Continue practicing for several days or weeks, depending on your child's progress. Then, just before you allow him to ride his bike to school for the first time, do a final practice, where you drive slightly behind him and evaluate how well he uses the skills you've taught him.

Prompt: When you allow him to ride his bike to school, remind him to use the safety skills he's learned. Do it often.

Preview: When your child will be crossing busy streets, going longer distances, or interpreting new traffic lights or signals, prepare him with information and/or supervised practice beforehand.

The step that parents most often overlook is the third one, providing supervised practice opportunities. Kids need a learning lab where the stakes are low and mistakes are expected. For example, think of the future benefits of encouraging, rather than discouraging a ten year old who can't wait to babysit. Instead of telling her she's too young, set up situations where she can be a mother's helper or can co-babysit with a teenager. Then, when she's thirteen, enroll her in a local Safe Sitter program. These incremental practice steps are exactly what's needed to prepare her to be in charge of small children.

Parents of preteens often remark that their kids don't like to be reminded about anything. That may be true, but isn't putting up with a protest like "I already know that!" a small price to pay for some peace of mind? It's important to anticipate and discuss new situations with your children when you know they will be semi- or unsupervised.


Before you grant a new privilege or freedom, be sure to complete step five. Discuss several hypothetical situations that require your child to problem solve effectively. And, if you're not satisfied with how he solves a potential problem, be prepared to postpone the privilege awhile. More time and practice may be needed before you say yes.

Another way to ensure wise parenting decisions is to closely observe your child and put to use what you know about her. Some questions for you to answer are suggested below. Your answers and observations will give you objective information about your child's readiness for more privileges or responsibilities.

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