Raising your kid in Three Easy Steps

How to raise your kids in three easy steps.

Imparting basic life skills to your kids is the most important aspect of their education. Looking around, it seems it is also the area that is most lacking. I do not know if this is because it is difficult, or that it is overlooked. I just know that way too many people have to figure out the basics for themselves when they enter the adult world.

Life skills are those general skills we use in our regular everyday life. Tying your shoelaces and crossing the street are two basic lifeskills most people are taught early on. Almost everyone (at least in Western countries) gets a drivers license in their late teens. Most people do not learn how to negotiate a deal, even though it is also a basic lifeskill that almost everyone needs.

Other life skills inclucde using a power drill, swimming, assembling a large piece of furniture, and choosing matching colors. Some more useful but less applicable skills are shooting a handgun and surviving for three days with only a knife and box of matches. A more important skill set which is universally needed but almost never taught is how to analyze the news, verify (or estimate) its accuracy, and form your own opinion. The most important lifeskill is how to choose a spouse and keep them happy, a skill taught in a direct inverse porportion to its importance.

There are many areas where even as a parent you simply do not have the information, and cannot teach it to your kid until uou first teach it to yourself. This short essay assumes that you already have the necessary knowledge to impart to your child. Even when parents have the relevant skills and information, they often fail to transmit them to the next generation.

There seem to be two major reasons for this failure. One, they often think that certain skills come with age, such as a kid knoowing how to cross the street when he turns nine, or marriage skills magically appearing when their child turns 23. Thankfully they (mostly) do not have the same ideas about driving skills devolving on their prodigy at age sixteen.

The second reason skills are not transferred are a simple lack of understanding how to transmit them. Telling your child to look both ways before they cross the street is not teaching them to cross safely. Telling them a hundred times to look both ways will probably work, but it is a pretty poor way to handle this lesson. Formal education suffers very noticably from this failure. It is a useful institution for imparting knowlege (1+1=2), but pretty useless for teaching skills, since skills are not just piles of information.

A third common error is not respecting the age of the child. Many people will teach their children some skill before they are ready, often at the preschool age when parents are in a rush for their kids to be more self-sufficient. Many other skills are taught to late as parents do not take advantage of their child’s readiness to learn at a young age. As a general rule, children who ask for information are ready to recieve it, and they will also quickly indicate disinterest if they are being taught something they are not ready for.

After you are satisfied that you have the necessary knowledge and that you have mastered the relevant skill; that your child is at an appropite age to learn it; and that simply telling him what you know is not the way to teach him a life skill, try the following easy three steps:

  1. Show him how you do it.

    Let him watch you once or twice, so he can see what it is that he needs to learn. The best time to teach a skill is when you are engaged it that activity. If that is not possible, talk to him about it. Describe whatb is involved, and maybe tell him how it went for you the first time.

  2. Help him do it a few times.

    Do it together. As much as possible this should be a hands-on joint effort. The first time he is on a bike, you hold the handles and run alongside. In other activities this will involve a lot of discussion. You cannot go out on his first dates with him, but you can give him plenty of time before and after discussing the dynamocs of dating.

  3. Let him do it himself, and stand on the side.

    After a few rounds of doing it together he is ready to try himself, but not yet ready to do it independantly. Pull back, but stay on the side. Do not give him step-by-step support, but point out any significant mistakes and useful tips. After a little practice, let him do it independantly, even if he is still at a beginners level.

After writing this, I wonder if I am not writing something completely obvious. What I wrote is the basics of instruction, and not something that there should be any value in spelling out. Looking around, I see that I am not writing something which is obvious to most people. Many people miss some of these steps, mostly for a lack of paying attention to how their children respond to their instruction. They neglect to introduce them to a new topic, thinkg they have seen it before. They do not take the time to do it together with their child, thinking that their verbal instruction is sufficient. They might not stay around to watch the first few times their kid does it on his own, becuase he already knows how to do it. When they pay attention to the learning process, it is clear that something is missing with these three steps, and that when the learning is done slowly, from demostration to training to application, that is when the lessons are learned the best.


The Games We Played – I

My 7 year old has recently been very interested in varied board games, and he also enjoys making up his own rules. I also like making up my own games, maybe it runs in the family. For this round I mostly made up the rules, with plenty of input from my son.

I just bought him a bunch of game markers so together with a chess board we can play pretty much whatever we can think of.

Our first attempt was a simple dice/strategy game. Each side gets 16 pieces, and the goal is to occupy all four center squares. We included his younger brother, who played the green pieces.

Each player has 16 pieces, set up in two rows of 8. A third player can play, with his pieces set up between the two rows of pieces, eight on each side.

The rules are quite simple. You throw two dice. One is the number of spaces you move your pieces, and one is the number of spaces you move your opponents pieces. While usually you will choose the higher number for moving your pieces, you are free to choose which number will be used for your pieces, and which for your opponent’s pieces. Pieces can be moved to any adjacent square, but not along diagonals.

You obviously cannot win simply by storming the center. In an ideal setup you will need a spin of four to occupy all four squares, if you managed to have a piece adjacent to each of the four centers squares. Usually even a spin of six would not be sufficient to occupy all four spaces in one turn.

The basic strategy is to slowly move up all your pieces, so that your opponent cannot easily move you off the center squares once you are there. We did not play long enough to see how you can counter this strategy, but I expect it might be necessary to try to first break up your opponents ranks and then try to take the center. Otherwise, you are likely to end up with a stalemate as each side has at least one center square, and they cannot be moved off because they are sufficiently backed up by the rest of their army.

As a variation, you can switch two adjacent piece, using one move for each piece. This would allow you to move an opponent’s piece off the center and immediately replace that square with your own piece. This way you can take him off the center square even when his piece is supported by back up soldiers, preventing you from pushing him off the center back towards his side. This variation would make it possible to take all four center squares with a throw of 4-4 or higher, as well as making it very easy to remove the opponent from the center, The primary strategy would therefore be to have as many soldiers as possible adjacent to the four center squares. If you can manage to have a soldier next to each of the four squares at the start of your turn, you have a decent chance at getting winning throw.

Punishing Insurance Prices

Scott Atlas from the Hoover Institution had and article recently pointing out that if fat people had to pay more for insurance they would be forced to take responsibility for their personal problems. Under the provisions of ObamaCare insurance costs will be equitable and not based on personal risk factors, so fat people will pay the same insurance premiums as someone who is in shape, even though their expected health costs are dramatically higher.

His argument seems to be that we should force people to take care of themselves by charging them higher premiums. As presented the argument is not quite correct. It is not the government’s business to force people to stay in shape. I am opposed to cigarette taxes intended to curb smoking, and equally against a fat tax meant to force people to exercise. (those who support cigarette taxes should also support a fat tax.) Insurance premiums also should not be a tool for influencing behavior, which is apparently properly done with taxes, as the Supreme Court recently reminded us.

Insurance premiums should reflect expected health costs. Fat people should pay higher premiums simply because they are purchasing higher coverage. Charging them a fair price for their more expensive product is not a punishment, any more than lower premiums for healthy people would be seen as a reward. It is true that higher premiums would also have the effect of encouraging healthy lifestyles, which we should be aware of, but this should be a desirable side-effect of charging the proper price, and not the motivation.

Amanda Marcotte over at Salon (via Scott Rudd) found this suggestion extremely offensive. She declares that fatness is beyond a person’s control, so we should not punish people for being fat. (it seems that numerous experiments have shown that quitting smoking is no more effective than dieting, so I wonder if she also believes smokers should not be charged higher premiums.)

Even if her contention was correct, and fatness really is not an issue of personal responsibility, fat people should still pay higher premiums. They are still seeking a more expensive product even if it is through no fault of their own. Marcotte’s illogic reveals the socialist motives of the supporters of ObamaCare. Insurance, in her mind, is not a product people buy because they need it. Insurance is just a way of distributing the cost of healthcare, while the provision of healthcare is a social responsibility, not a service.

ObamaCare is not meant, contrary to its public selling points, to require everyone to take responsibility for their health costs, and to prevent people from being public liabilities. The equal cost provision gives the lie to that argument. ObamaCare is meant to socialize the provision and payment of healthcare. In this sense the Supreme Court was right, but insufficiently so, when they said that the penalty for not buying insurance is a tax. Not only is the penalty a tax, but also the insurance premium is a tax.

Insurance, as Marcotte and her crowd see it, is exactly the opposite of personal responsibility. Insurance, in their mind, is the means by which we disconnect the provision and payment of health care, so that people do not actually have to pay for the healthcare they need. Asking people to take responsibility for their healthcare would mean requiring the healthcare market to be as individual as possible, and fully allow the health insurance companies to charge premiums based on individual considerations. When everyone is required to buy insurance but the cost of insurance is uniform, the function of the individual mandate is to remove responsibility from others, and not to demand responsibility from the purchaser.

Marcotte’s ridiculous claim that healthy lifestyle choices are not a personal choice reflects the same attitude of deflecting responsibility. Arguing that people can freely choose to be healthier means that people are expected to take responsibility for themselves, therefore, it must be wrong. She cannot accept a world where people need to take responsibility for their health any more than she would accept people taking responsibility for their healthcare.