Here are a couple of training tenants that stuck with me during my training as a Navy SEAL. (1)
1. Crawl, Walk, Run
Start at a crawl. Start slow. Train for the fundamentals. Josh Waitzkin, in his book The Art of Learning, talks about spending hours working on small movements in martial arts. He is a world champion!
In the SEAL teams, this was fundamental to all training. SEALs got hurt or died when we rushed training.
2. Slow is smooth and smooth is fast
The only way to truly appreciate the wisdom of this saying is to experience it. Anytime I'm rushing through nearly anything I remind myself that slowing down will speed up the whole process. In the SEAL Teams, it showed up in accuracy. Guys that rushed not only tripped and bumped their way through a mission, but they didn’t hit their targets, group their shots. Additionally, they were not in sync with the rest of the team. Their flustered rushed state had them unaware of everyone else.
By favorite though is:
3. Train like you fight.
Eventually, once we were ready, we went to full speed and in realistic training environments. We would find buildings to clear, tracks to drive full speed on, people to interact with, and even split into groups and go against each other in a paintball fight (2) where the bad guys knew what you were going to do.
And for the situations that we could not simulate in training, we spent countless hours in mission planning talking through contingency plans.
Over time we developed deep intuition about our strategies and tactics in the situation. We knew our roles and knew how our teammates would act.
I am NOT saying to train your children like the NAVY SEALS!
If you have read my story, you know that I approached parenting like military training and failed. What I have learned, though, is that I can borrow these fundamental philosophies and apply it to preparing my children for specific situations.
The Native American community calls these "Rites of Competence." Different than rites of passage but equally important for child development, Rites of Competence are opportunities for children to prove to their community that they are capable of specific skills without supervision.
In my family, we call it “testing out."
A couple of years ago, I started increasing the amount of autonomy my children have when going to the store. We were blessed when living in Sebastopol, CA to be just a block from a locally owned grocery store. It made getting last minute groceries for dinner easy.
With two hungry boys, I don't want to stop cooking dinner to buy something at the store. I thought it would be very handy to have my two sons go to the store for me. I knew that they would resist me telling them to do it. So I created what I call a “reverse resistance frame of mind” (RRF for short). I told them that they were not ready to go to the store alone, but they could practice and test out if they wanted.
No one likes to hear that they can’t do something!
It is amazing how powerful an approach RFF is to encouraging children to move out of their comfort zone. They immediately wanted to learn what it would take to “test out” and be able to go to the store on their own.
Take some time and be thoughtful about the process you will use for testing out. You can ask for input from your children, but the key is that you, as the parent, have to be satisfied that they are ready before they can act autonomously and do it themselves.
Another key is that your standard be higher than theirs so that they feel ready before you think they are. Keep that RRF going throughout.
First, we would walk over and shop together, each time giving them more and more responsibility. I added things like:
- Hold the shopping list and check things off
- Hold the money
- Check out and pay
- Ask for help finding something from a store employee
- Meet the people working there and make acquaintances
This process increased their confidence and intuition of what to do in different situations. They were ready to put it all together and do it on their own!
I designed a final series of tests to demonstrate their new skills and prove they could do it together but without an adult.
They walked to the store with me a few yards behind them. I waited by the registers while they shopped and was there as they checked out.
Next, I walked WAY behind them and waited outside for them to finish shopping. When I checked the groceries, they had forgotten an item. It turns out they could not find it and asked for help to find out the store was out.
At this point, I am confident in their ability to deal with the expected.
Time for the “what if” game.
In the SEAL Teams, we would now shift to contingency planning.
The “what if” game allows you to review everything they know, build their confidence about what to do, explore situations that are unlikely to happen, and also help them remember everything they need to do.
“What if the store is closed?”
Every situation after that gets a little tougher and requires them to think more.
In practicing going to the grocery store, we had gotten into every normal situation expected, so most of my questions were very simple and easy for them to answer. Questions like:
“What if you can't find what you're looking for?”
“What if you lose the money or the shopping list?”
“What if you see a close friend at the store?”
“What if a friend pulls beside you, rolls down the window and says hi?”
There were a couple of situations that hadn't come up yet in practice. Time to cover those.
“What if someone you don’t know says that they will give you a ride home if you want?”
“What if someone you don’t know says that he just talked to your mother and she said he was supposed to take you home?”
“What if something happens and it just doesn’t feel right to you?”
These were thought-provoking questions that spurred great conversations.
It was time to do it on their own. 30 minutes later they are back with eggs and almond milk. Success!
Testing out is a Rite of Competence that proves to their community that they are capable. This part is lost without a celebration. Here is a general rule about celebrations.
We celebrate how we got to our goal and spend some time in acknowledgment of our success.
When they got back home from the store, I was right there to greet them. We talked about what happened and how it went. I finished preparing dinner and after dinner brought out a surprise treat (3). Then we talked about all the work that it took to get to this moment of proving competence.
It was a special time for all of us. As the coach and father, I probably got the most satisfaction. The celebration encourages future effort. (4)
A week later I sent them for some deli meat for lunches for the morning. They came back with no money and no groceries. Apparently, they lost the Twenty dollar bill and searched all over to find it.
Mistakes happen and are an excellent opportunity to learn. A couple of simple curiosity questions with a mood of learning and growing get us quickly to the learning point.
Keep your money in your pocket until you go to check out.
20 dollars is a pretty small price to pay for an enduring lesson.
Put in the comments below what you plan to test your children on and let me know how it goes!
(1) These learning philosophies were put into action during SEAL training at all levels. In the Teams, we would relentlessly practice tactics increasing the complexity and speed of these rehearsals over weeks of training. We built up skills over time, starting with slow and methodical individual and team training, moving to realistic real world scenarios.
(2) We used much more realistic ammunition that once hit me so hard on the pinky that my nail fell off.
(3) In my home, dessert is a pretty rare occurrence thus making it unique. If you serve dessert every night, it will not have the same impact.
(4) Also, read about how children think about being smart and why praise makes children brittle at the sign of any adversity.
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