One Hard Thing – Teaching Kids to Try Hard Things

Over the summer, I am starting a program for my kids that I am calling “One Hard Thing.” Teaching kids to try hard things can be a real challenge. Sometimes our fear of failure or something new can be paralyzing. Sometimes it can even keep us from looking clearly at the task and realizing that it is actually not that hard.

So every day, we are going to tackle one “hard” skill or task. My goal is to make it hard, but doable. The tasks are meant to be completed in about 15-30 minutes. I want small, fast, concrete victories. I also told my kids that I don’t care if they actually do them successfully or not, I just want them to calmly and cheerfully try to do their best.

My hope is that by the end of the summer my kids will identify themselves as people who tackle hard and intimidating things all the time. I want them to get used to the idea that they might not do it right at first, but the goal is to try. I am hoping to build confidence and resiliency, something that we are struggling with right now. I figure if doing something hard becomes part of their routine, it will no longer feel so new, scary and foreign.

The name of the program was very much on purpose. I want to neutralize the word “hard.” My goal isn’t necessarily to get them to do these things on my list, even though they are life skills I am glad we are practicing. My goal is to make them not scared of things that they have labeled as hard.

I also didn’t want to make it some complicated program with lots of printouts and charts. This momma doesn’t have time to stay up late crafting star charts. I also read once in an article on successful businesses that the best ones were ones that had flexible structures that allowed them to quickly tweak things as needed. I have applied this to my own family and have learned that keeping it simple and flexible allows me to adjust things quickly when it is not working for my kids or our situation. This doesn’t mean that you aren’t consistent. I am crazy consistent. But it allows me to focus on my kids and not the program. Setting this up should take minutes, not hours.

So for teaching kids to try hard things, I have a simple list on a cork board that we will be crossing things off on. And if I want to add something, I just write it underneath in my terrible handwriting. The kids don’t care.
Teaching Kids to Try Hard Things

For my kids, screen time is their currency. So I am giving out 15 or 30 minutes of screen time depending on the task. Some of the tasks are fun and easier, so it will only be 15 minutes. But some of the tasks are going to be more of a struggle. To earn the time, the kids only need to keep a good attitude and sincerely try to do it. I told them if they fail at it, it is no big deal.

So far, this is our list. I will be adding things over the summer and would love to hear any suggestions. I will be posting daily “hard things” on Instagram and Facebook if you want to follow along.

LIST OF ONE HARD THINGS – Teaching Kids to Try Hard Things

  • Use the sewing machine
  • Hammer in a nail
  • Screw in a screw
  • Use the drill
  • Thread a needle
  • Tie a new kind of knot
  • Wrap a present
  • Solve an easy Sudoku
  • Change a diaper
  • Math word problem with multiple steps
  • Play a song on a recorder
  • Call a store and ask a question
  • Look at a menu and figure out what you could buy for $20, including tip
  • Climb a ladder and change a light bulb
  • Pump up a bike tire or ball
  • Learn the rules to a new card game
  • Learn a magic trick
  • Learn how to iron
  • Double a recipe
  • Check tire pressure
  • Learn how to take your temperature
  • Fold a fitted sheet
  • Do a load of laundry
  • Learn all the rules of a new sport
  • Learn to metal stamp

At first, I am going to let one child pick once a week and then I get to pick the others. We will see how that goes and change it if needed. At the end of the summer, I will update this post with what I have learned.

UPDATE:

Summer is well over and I have had some time to reflect on our little challenge this summer. It blessed our lives in so many ways.

First, I loved hearing suggestions from other parents on things we should tackle. Many of the things I hadn’t thought of and it made me think about how we focus so much on school and sports that our children don’t learn many life skills. It was great doing one hard thing over the summer, but it isn’t enough. Kids also need to be working alongside their parents so that they can learn how to be adults. Learning how to be capable is what builds self-esteem and confidence, not trophies or piling on unrelated praise.

Second, what was hard for one kid wasn’t always hard for the other. I learned a lot about my children as I watched one breeze through a task and the other be reduced to tears over that same task. We know our kids aren’t all the same, but this really drove it home. It made me think of the ways I can adjust my parenting for each one to help them with their own unique challenges.

Third, our expectations shape how resilient we are. I noticed that if my kids expected something to be easy and it wasn’t, they got really frustrated. But if they thought it would be hard and there are no demands on being successful, they handled things a lot better.

Fourth, it has given them a framework that they can use when they try hard things in the future. Without realizing it, we went through some steps and I have noticed that they continue to fall back on those steps. We don’t think of doing hard things as requiring steps, but it does. We became familiar with what we needed to do, we adjusted our attitudes and expectations, we broke things into smaller pieces, and we tried more than once.

Here were a couple of my favorites hard things we did:

Digging a Hole:
Our first day doing “one hard thing” turned out a little different than I had planned. The kids found a dead bird in the backyard that morning and my boy was absolutely devastated. He wanted to give it a proper burial, so I decided that digging a hole was a good “hard thing” to tackle. My boy wouldn’t let Ladybug help because he insisted that it needed to be a sacrifice. If you have ever seen or read the Harry Potter scene where he digs a grave in The Deathly Hallows (I won’t spoil it by telling you who it was for), but it was very much like that. My boy has a heart of gold and it was all very dramatically touching. So we left him to cathartically work out his grief and I took Ladybug to the front to dig her own hole. I had a couple of plants that needed to go into the ground, so it was perfect. We even found a particularly feisty worm.

When we went back to check on my boy, I was surprised by how deep his hole was.

He even made the bird a tombstone. Later we talked about how sometimes hard things become easier when we do them out of love. Ladybug insightfully pointed out that, that could be a talk at church, but she wasn’t going to give it. Somebody else could. She also asked, “Are we going to have to do all this EVERY time we find a dead bird in the yard?” To be honest, I was tempted to just tell my boy to suck it up and unceremoniously dump the bird in the trash, but the whole process really helped him work through his feelings. But next time we find a dead bird in the yard, I am sure that all of us will try hard to keep it from him! The whole experience was a lot different than I had planned, but it made me glad I have kept this whole “one hard thing” program so simple and flexible. That way I can really adapt to my kids’ needs in the moment.

Hammer in a Nail:
This was easy for my boy, but brought Ladybug to tears. She never got it all the way in but I was so proud of her when she kept trying even after whacking a finger. We laughed about the time I sent a staple straight through my finger with a staple gun while reupholstering. The focus is on trying, not ability. The ability often only comes after trying over and over and over again.

Changing a Light Bulb:
This one was great because it really needed to be done! When I started this I was hoping that my kids would learn a lot, but I find myself learning a lot about my kids. These challenges have been a lot harder for Ladybug than I thought they would be. She was really nervous on the ladder (I was right there spotting her), even though she is my little gymnast. But she is already asking to do more hard things. She gets a little emotional, but she is enjoying the challenge.

Check your Tire Pressure:
Checking your tire pressure seems easy enough, but those tricky little gauges take a little finesse. If you don’t get it on there just right, you can’t get an accurate reading. But the best part was the noise. The hissing noise totally freaked Ladybug out and it didn’t help that my boy convinced her that it hurt a little. I tried to reassure her that it doesn’t even remotely hurt, but she wasn’t buying it. As she timidly pressed the gauge against the tire and it started to hiss, she screamed and chucked the gauge across the driveway. But I was proud of her. After chanting, “I can do this, I can do this,” she made several more attempts. The kids weren’t able to get it on there just right, but I was proud of them for trying several times without getting frustrated. I finally had them stop because I was worried about my tires losing too much air.

Multi-Step Word Problem:
Word problems like this are like lighting a fuse at our house. I was braced for the worst. But the kids did pretty well, even trying a couple of approaches and accidentally erasing part of the word problem before the frustration started to set in. It wasn’t a total victory, but it was progress!

Threading a needle:
We started with a big needle and worked our way down. Ladybug buzzed through this one and was pretty proud of herself. My Boy struggled a bit and almost gave up on the smaller ones but pushed through and was able to thread all of them, much to his surprise.

Diaper Changing:
When we decided to tackle this one, we needed two things we didn’t have 1) a baby 2) a diaper. I decided that it was a good idea to start with a baby doll anyway, and then Amazon unexpectedly sent me this free diaper sample! I hate shopping, so well over 50% of my shopping is done on Amazon Prime. It is so bad that when Ladybug was 3 she asked me how the mail carrier always knew what we needed. So when this diaper unexpectedly
showed up it was a little eery. But we now had the diaper we needed! While changing the diaper things obviously got a little goofy. We decided to pretend it was a #2 and I showed them all the tricks, including how to wipe down with the diaper to isolate the mess and how to give the baby something to play with so that they aren’t grabbing at things down there. Maybe next time we will find a real baby to practice on. I hope Amazon doesn’t send me one…

Spend $30 at a Restaurant, Including Tip:
Sometimes kids have a hard time seeing the practical side of math, but I was surprised at how many math concepts come into play when ordering from a menu. It becomes second-nature as an adult and you forget that it often involves things like rounding up, adding decimals, figuring out percentages, adding, and subtracting. My kids love Sizzler – largely because of the salad bar. So I decided to pull up their menu. We could have done it at an actual restaurant, but I wanted to practice first. What was funny to me was how much their orders contained forbidden pleasures. Ladybug ordered a Coke and looked at me slyly (we don’t do kids and caffeine) and my little vegetarian ordered a steak and lobster. He loves meat, but can’t stand the thought of hurting animals, so I guess he can at least enjoy it in pretend.

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