competent kids

Raising Competent Kids

Sydney’s spring this year has been rainy.

I don’t mind so much because I know how important rain is for our dams and farms. When it rains, it can be a useful time to recharge with a good book, make a cup of tea or just stare out at the raindrops, letting their repetition replenish you.

But the rain tends to keep us inside, putting a damper on our outdoor activities and impacting our adventurous side.  Or so it may seem…

Most often, when we think of exercise, we imagine a planned, time-boxed activity such as a gym class, a run or doing sport. But incidental exercise is equally important and plays not only an important part in our fitness routine but also in our overall well being.  Incidental exercise can even have an impact on our ability to build resilience, improve creative problem solving and become competent human beings; the ultimate reward, really.  I stopped to consider this the other day, after my daughter and I took a walk along the coastline, in the rain with a dear friend.

Okay, full disclosure, it wasn’t really raining at the time we started walking but it was sputtering and spitting, windy and a bit wild outside; it was generally overcast and definitely not sunny; it was a damp and cold day. Sounds lovely, doesn’t it? My friend called me up and asked if, despite this crazy weather (maybe even because of it) – ‘Would l like to go outside?’  Working from home brings many challenges, among them is the need for variety.

She sold the idea pretty well; she said it would be an adventure, that we would find parking easily because there wouldn’t be any crowds and we wouldn’t need sunscreen. She would have nice, fluffy warm towels in the car to use when we were done and she would bring a thermos of warm tea for us to sip on after our self inflicted ordeal. I thought this sounded like the perfect antidote to cabin fever and was excited to go. I thought my daughter would opt for the iPad instead of getting her feet wet, but in one of those parental moments where I was wonderfully mistaken, she enthusiastically opted in.

True to her word, my friend easily found a park nearly on the beach, kilometres closer than any sunny day would have allowed. When we arrived, there were a few very brave souls on paddleboards but no one on the beach. We had our rain jackets on, our fluffy blankets and hot tea in the car for our return; we set off.

We didn’t walk anywhere in particular. We poked around the beach and looked at where the sand had been eroded by the rain. My daughter picked up shells and rocks.  Then leaving the beach behind, we walked around the point to the rock flats and ledges. The tide was low and the ocean rocked and rolled onto the rocky shore, far enough away not to be a concern. We picked our way slowly across strange rock formations, dead crabs and pebbles of every shape, size and hue. There were ribbons of reddish rock running through the stone and huge boulders at steep and odd angles. 

 At one point, we came to an impossibly large boulder, taller than a two-story house, forming what appeared to be an impassable stone slab, vertically towering in front of us. But as we moved closer, it became clear it was passable, we just hadn’t seen the entire situation from far away. We walked around it, pushing aside bushes and keeping our feet from the lapping waves, unable to keep our hands from caressing the vertical stone, marvelling at its height and smooth surface.

 We kept going, sometimes following the path of the person in front of us, sometimes taking a different route. Every obstacle was different depending on the person undertaking it. We were all different sizes, heights and ages, with different skills and experience; the physical problems before us were as unique as we were. Some were harder for my daughter because she is slightly shorter than me (but probably not for long), other spaces were easier for her to thread her lithe frame through and some, trickier conundrums were solved by a combination of experience and coaching: put your right foot here and reach your left hand here. We spent an hour or so, supporting each other as needed, judging distance and difficulty, risk and reward, as we walked and talked.


In Jordan Peterson’s book, “12 Rules for Life; An Antidote to Chaos” he writes about watching some kids skateboarding at the University of Toronto where he worked. He writes about how they would undertake these crazy, adventurous and sometimes dangerous tricks; attempting them over and over again, sometimes with success and sometimes failing. He wrote that the kids deserved “a pat on the back and some honest admiration.” He noted that they “would have been safer in protective equipment, but that would have ruined it. They weren’t trying to be safe. They were trying to become competent and it’s the competence that makes people safe as they can truly be.”

 As parents, we want to raise competent adolescents and later, adults. But the trick is that competence can only be modeled, not taught because the journey to competence has to come from practice, failure and ultimately, dedication. And no-one can give these traits to anyone but themselves.

 By the time we headed back, the rain had begun in earnest and we were grateful for the protection of our jackets and even more grateful for the hot tea and dry towels. We drove home in high spirits, our hair damp and cold but our hearts warm. Being outside, undertaking an adventure, doing it alongside each other – these are ways to teach our children resilience, creative problem solving and ultimately, competency. And they are almost always free and easily available, any time of day, in any season and any weather.

Jennifer Hill
About the author

Jennifer Hill

Born and raised in the north-eastern USA, I have spent the last 20 years of my life working and living in Australia. But accordingly to
everyone I meet, I will never lose my American accent (sigh).

My timing, lifestyle and approach have often been far from traditional. I was raised in small business but have worked in corporate for the last two decades. I come from a long line of
‘late-bloomers’ and after receiving a BA in Creative Writing over 25 years ago, I am finally getting around to using it! I have written for decades but about six years ago I began writing and delivering speeches. No topic is off limits and I write in forms as diverse
as poetry, essays, fiction, prose and self help. I now spend my time proofreading and editing for others, developing website content, writing a young adult novella (for fun) and spending time on my front porch, feeding the local magpies and basking in the seemingly eternal Sydney sunshine.

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5 rounds of

  • 5 inch worms
  • 10 push ups
  • 10 squats
  • 30s – 1min plank
  • 30s – 1min bridge