Grilling with Your Child

How to get more out of your home grill than just a great meal.

Ever since the first cave people discovered that the taste of roasted meat was a whole lot better than the raw stuff they had grown up with, men and woman have been passing down the fine art of grilling to their sons and daughters.

Now, a lot of people miss this golden (golden brown, to be exact) opportunity and just do all the grilling themselves, bring the tasty morsels to the waiting (often salivating) mouths of their family, and take all the credit.  This is designed to encourage you to use that grill of yours as a cool tool in your parenting arsenal.  Not only will it be great for your kids but with just a little effort you can turn it into the most fun you’ve had since you last bagged a wooly mammoth.

Courage, Self-esteem, and a great relationship

An important part of your role as a parent is to encourage the development of courage, self-esteem and other positive traits and values in your kids. One way to do this is to teach them skills—ones that they want to learn. There is a saying that “knowledge is power.” A child that achieves power through skill mastery is going to feel better about themselves (high self-esteem) and have more courageto tackle other challenging tasks in life. And since you are the one empowering them, taking the time to teach skills has the double benefit of strengthening your relationship.  Because everyone likes to eat, and most kids have a natural interest in anything to do with fire, teaching your kids to safely use the grill is a wonderful skill to include on a regular basis.

The following tips can help you teach this skill (as well as many others) effectively:

Tips for Teaching Skills

1.  Age Appropriate.  Make sure the skill is reasonable for your child’s age and level of development, especially considering the importance of health and safety. Tackling too challenging a skill will be frustrating and defeat the positive goals of the experience.  And when it comes to fire, you can start by letting your child watch you grill, before preceding to help.  But with kids, the rule is no grilling without an adult. With teens, evaluate their level of responsibility and how safely they learn the skill while you are with them before deciding on how old is old enough.      

2.  Motivate.  Forcing a child to learn a skill is likely to backfire and cause all involved a lot of misery.  For this reason, motivation is step #2.  Encourage your child (or teen) to want to learn the skill by explaining the value it has to him/her or to the entire family. Increase motivation by making the skill as relevant to their life as possible. For example:

      How would you like to learn how to use the grill with me today?

      I think its time for you to learn the ancient art of grilling so you too will be able to amaze your friends and family with your culinarypowers.(smile)

3.     Select a good time. Pick a time when neither you nor your kid will be rushed or interrupted.  A busy night is probably not the best option.  

4.     Break the skill down into small steps. This makes it much easier to learn. When skills are learned one step at a time, there are more successes to help build courage and motivation. For example:

“The first thing to remember in grilling is safety.  I don’t mind you burning a few pieces of meat now and then, but I don’t want you burning yourself.”

The next thing is to find a recipe that looks good to you or one that you already know and like.

This is where a good grilling cookbook or searching online for a good recipe is a must.  You want to go beyond just the usual to turning the experience into one with unlimited possibilities.  Take some time to go through the recipes together and pick out something you will cook. Selecting, shopping, preparation, and serving are all part of the process and the fun.  Of course, you can just start with something simple and work up to more elaborate recipes after your child gets the basics under her belt.

5.     Demonstrate. When teaching a difficult skill, it’s helpful to demonstrate the skill yourself (provided you can do it!), explaining slowly as you do: 

“Let me show you how to get your fire just right…

6.     Let your child try. Let him perform the skill while you stand by, ready to offer help if he needs it. Be gentle about mistakes, and keep a sense of humor. For example:

Okay, now you try it. Just slide the spatula under the burger and flip it like I did.

7.     Encourage, encourage, encourage. Make plenty of encouraging comments that acknowledge your child’s efforts as well as results. This builds self-esteem and keeps motivation high to continue learning. For example:

“Great! That’s the way to do it.”

It’s okay, it takes practice. Let’s try again.

Looking good.

8.     Work or play together. Once your child has learned the skill to an appropriate level, you can sometimes work or play together, so that you can both enjoy the companionship of the activity. For example:

“OK, how about I do the vegetables while you do the steaks?

Now, go forth and grill together

As a dad myself I know that it’s sometimes easier to just do it yourself—whether the “it” is fixing a leaky toilet or grilling barbeque chicken.  And there are plenty of times when your kids will be too busy with homework, sports, music and other life-of-their-own stuff to pull them in to a learning skills session.  The challenge comes when what they would rather be doing is sharpening their skills on their favorite video game or just sitting mindlessly in front of the TV. This is where a little inspiration and effort from you can show them that there are a lot of skills worth learning in life that can strengthen their independence and prepare them for a real life, rather than just a virtual one.

Grilling together is one of the best. Plus, spending time with mom or dad is both fun and encouraging – so go for it!  

Dr. Michael H. Popkin