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It's not a bug, it's kung fu.

My wife has been using martial arts techniques on our children and it's made our lives a lot easier, especially around meal times. She's no martial artist, but has managed to master a technique called sui ren zhi shi, jie ren zhi li - one of the fundamental combat principles of taijiquan. The technique - and it's a killer one - is better known on the net in the really old joke, "That's not a bug - it's a feature!" I love it when this action works, and I want to teach myself how to do it more often.

Especially on the kids.

Literally, sui ren zhi shi, jie ren zhi li means "following someone's posture, borrowing someone's strength." When getting all fighty with the kung fu, it means using your body as the axle of a wheel and turning just so... which converts your opponent's momentum toward you into a goofy looking stumble in some other direction. Don't attack strength with strength, attack by turning strength in a more productive direction.

I get that from book learning and from doing a little push hands. My wife, she was just being hounded constantly by our very helpful little bundles of interruptions (ages 5 and 2.5) when it came time to cook a meal. "I wanna help, I wanna help, I wanna help!" they'd say, while grabbing for the good crystal and the razor-keen pizza slicer. I could only keep one of them occupied at a time, before the other would creep into the kitchen and strike up the chorus. "I wanna help!" And it was just as bad when I was doing the food prep and she was running interference. We're on a bit of a tight schedule (I work some nights), and we all have things we'd rather be doing - like diddling around with Photoshop and blogging software. Nothing was getting done. So, at the end of our collective tether, my wife, who is a genius, decided to let the kids help.

It worked.

It turned out to be far easier to teach the 5-year-old how to use sharp things safely (and with supervision) than to let her try on her own... or to turn the kitchen into a complete hands-off zone. And a 2-and-a-half-year-old is much happier sifting flour or kneading dough than toddling over to the hot stove top to see what's cooking up there. In fact, harnessing what had been a massive oppositional force - getting the kids to work in the kitchen instead of treating them as a dangerous distraction - freed up enough time for her to start diddling around with Photoshop and figuring out blogging software. Yeah, she turned them into a foodblog (it's called Junior Kitchen and is super cute). Leaving the blog aside, getting the kids to cook was the greatest parenting move I've ever seen.

So I'm curious how else people have made this thing work for them - taking bugs and turning them into features. Borrowing strength to get results. What are some other ways I can do this? Teach me how you made lemonade!

Steven Rigney's picture

Teach don't protect

I just wrote a similar post. I taught my kids to use scissors and the stairs. I also have my kids help me in the kitchen all the time. Teaching them to wash their hands after cracking eggs. It's so much better to have them know the right way.

Teach Don't Protect




An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


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