I recently talked with a mom who was discouraged because her attempts to try some new listening techniques hadn’t worked for her. She said they felt strange and she often forgot to use them. So she gave up trying.

This is not an uncommon story. And there are reasons for it. I’ll explain.

There’s a big difference between learning a skill and learning an idea or concept. You get ideas and concepts from books, videos, and classroom learning. Skill learning happens when you actually practice a skill so many times that your brain grows a new circuit for implementing it.

The mom I talked to hadn’t understood the difference. She hadn’t committed to following through to repeat the skill often with her child. Inevitably, when you try to practice a new skill, you may initially experience feelings of awkwardness. You have your habitual way of doing it, which usually doesn’t produce good results. But after all these years it’s your automatic response, because, well, it’s an ingrained habit.

This means you will sometimes forget to use the new technique. You’ll fall back on your habitual response instead. Which will make you feel a little like a failure. The new skill doesn’t feel familiar and comfortable so you conclude that maybe it’s not right for you. So you give up on it. You stop trying to get the repetitions you need to wire your brain for the new skill.

It’s an old story. But there are three things the mom could have done to stick with it:

  1. Work on one skill at a time.
  2. Meet regularly with another mom who agrees to listen to her talk about her experiences and encourage her.
  3. Even when she forgets to try, and even when trying feels awkward, don’t give up. Keep trying and learn from each attempt.

Eventually, she will forget less often and using the skill will start to feel more natural. Ultimately, if she sticks with it, her brain will wire itself for the new skill, and it will become her automatic response. Millions of moms have done this, and she can, too.

You’ve read this far because you’re a parent who wants to be at your best for your child. You’re willing to try new skills. Here are two books that will support you in this effort:

Connect with Your Kid: Mastering the Top 10 Parent-Child Communication Skills

Parents Coaching Parents