There are three things wait, four things, parents have to teach their children before they are five, six or at the latest, seven years old. Otherwise…it’s too late. And if you don’t teach your child these three things consider yourself a mediocre parent. I should know.
#1 Teach your kid how to ride a bike. It’s not easy, it takes a lot of patience and running around. Your child is going to cry and get mad at you. They will want to give up, but don’t let them. Take the time to hold the back of the bike seat and run up and down the parking lot or side walk.
Learning to ride a bike when you are young is easy and not nearly as scary because you’re a short person on a short bike, you are close to the ground and you don’t look like a complete doooof if you are wearing all kinds of elbow and knee pads, extra underwear and a football helmet.
Little kids fall down all the time, it’s not that big a deal. But when grownups fall down it’s a monumental embarrassment. Kids fall down then pop back up. Adults fall down then miss work for a week.
I failed to teach Mary how to ride a bike. We rode with training wheels, then took one wheel off but that’s as far as we got and I didn’t force the issue. So my beautiful, brilliant adult daughter still needs one training wheel.
#2. Teach your child to swim, or let somebody else do it. First there’s the safety side of the equation. Unless you live in the Middle East your child will spend time around water, lakes and pools, he’ll end up on a boat.
When grown ups try to learn to swim they are terrified because they know the reality of the situation. If they go under they will die. The adult brain also interferes with the learning process. A two hundred pound man may know he can float but he doesn’t’ believe his great big fat body will stay on top of the water. So he thrashes around, sinks, gets water up his nose and gives up. The end.
Teach your child to swim to the edge of the pool and to hold on before they are one year old. The kid doesn’t have to be an Olympic swimmer, they don’t need to know all the strokes including the butterfly, but they better know how to float and how to get to the shallow end of the pool.
And think about this, the planet Earth is 71 percent water. You don’t want your child to be afraid of 71% of this place.
When a child learns to swim it’s cute, when an adult tries to learn to swim it’s embarrassing and traumatic.
#3. Finally, please teach your child how to shake hands. Little boys and girls. All you have to remember is “firm grip and eye contact”. Their lives will be better with this one simple skill.
When Jack was 13 or 14 he decided he wanted to look like an absolute freak, bright red mohawk, suspenders, plaid golf pants. Still, he had a great handshake, he knew how to look an adult in the eye and act like a man so coaches, teachers and ministers cut him some slack and still loved him. Grown men let him date their beautiful daughters in part, I believe, because he had an excellent hand shake.
If a kid has a pathetic handshake I generally think they are weak or sneaky. I can’t help it. And yes, I know lots of scummy, slimy people have great handshakes. But do your child a favor. Start shaking hands with them when they are two years old. Shake hands all the time at home. Role play, shake hands in the morning and say “nice to meet you, sir.” Kids will think it’s fun and remember, when they are little, remind them to shake hands with new people in private before you introduce them. After a while, it will become automatic.
And the best part, when they are little but shake hands like a grown man, people will say, “wow, great hand shake buddy!” The child will be really proud and keep doing it.
When Sandor’s thirteen year old buddies come over I shake hands with them. If it’s gooey we work on it. It’s that easy. Young men need to know how to shake hands but if you don’t teach them they won’t get it.
If I were to add one more thing to teach your kid, it would be how to make a phone call, if they aren’t calling their friends. They need to know how to say, “Hi, this is Morgan, can I talk to Heather.” At least once a week a kid calls my phone, looking for Sandor. They just say, “Uh, where Sandor?” I tell them what they need to do (sweetly) then tell them to hang up and try again. 98 percent of them do it and get it right.
We all want to make our children’s lives better. You can teach them the skills that will absolutely help. And it’s actually fun!