Why Do I Have to Say the Same Thing 100 Times?

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So you have explained to your child yet again that she will need both hands to pour the lemonade, yet she still keeps her toy in one hand while trying to fill her cup with the other hand—and of course, spills some lemonade on the counter. The frustration of having to repeat the same thing over and over is a familiar feeling to any parent.

It is easy to get absorbed in what we are trying to teach, and forget that there is someone there that needs to learn. Teaching doesn’t happen because we have taught something; teaching happens when someone learns what we have taught. This seems obvious when stated, but in practice it is easy to overlook.

Learning takes time. It requires that the learner absorb the instruction or information that was “taught” through experience or thoughtful consideration. This process can be messy and may require that the learner be exposed to concepts multiple times. The learner may need to make plenty of mistakes over many trials of doing, testing, and wondering. (For a good reference on how children learn, check out the book How Children Learn by John Holt)

In the end, it is about coaching a child through the learning process. It is not about taking a child to the destination of “knowledge.” We can’t control what a child learns, anyway. We can only enable them to learn at their own discretion and at their own pace, by providing the information they need at the right times. We can do this when we are involved enough in our child’s life to know what kind of information they need, built around what they are trying to do of their own interest, and tailored to match their learning style.

What we are doing is erecting scaffolding. We can’t make a child use that scaffolding to climb upward, but we can build it. The child will determine when and how to climb it. In some cases, it may be years before they do so.

They may ignore your instruction at first, because they think they have a better way. They may not yet be interested in what you are trying to tell them. They may need to spend some time making some mistakes, and then spend some more time making mistakes.

I can’t answer why you have to say the same thing one hundred times. That’s just how learning works. The child has spilled lemonade before, and will probably do it again. You can’t control that; the only thing you can control is your own behavior. So the only answer I can offer is that perhaps you don’t need to say the same things one hundred times after all.

Maybe you can stop saying it at all for a while. Give your child the room to use mistakes as teachers. Mistakes, of course, are not instant teachers. When a child can reflect upon those mistakes free from judgment, in their own time, then they are apt to eventually internalize the lessons from those mistakes.

The other thing you can do is stop focusing on the outcome—the thing to be learned—and start focusing on the process of learning. The messy, two-steps-forward-three-steps-back process of learning. Don’t admonish; simply instruct. Don’t lecture; simply give information in small doses and with a positive attitude. This is, of course, taking a leap of faith.

You won’t get the outcome you are looking for right away. But trust that the right outcome will come. It might not happen like you expect. There will be more twists and turns and reversals than you would like. There will be hard-to-watch mistakes and bad decisions.

Learning is not a race to the destination. It is a process. It is a lot like life in that regard. Sometimes, having dry countertops is like that, too.

How to Cite this Article: Brian Vondruska, “Why Do I Have to Say the Same Thing 100 Times?”, The Kind of Parent You Are, accessed [date], https://www.thekindofparentyouare.com/articles/100-times.