Make Sure Your Kids Have Some Mad Skills

Jay PayleitnerThis week we’re featuring a guest blog from Jay Payleitner—a best-selling author, speaker, and good friend of the National Center for Fathering whose latest book is 10 Conversations Kids Need to Have with Their Dad. He also has a recent one called 52 Things Sons Need from Their Dads, and this blog was adapted from one of the 52 chapters. Enjoy this; Jay’s perspective will challenge you:


What is a mad skill? Hmmm. A reasonable definition might be: A mildly impressive or amusing ability that probably will not lead directly to large amounts of cash, scholarships, job offers, or world peace.

So why bother? Well, it just so happens mad skills have the ability to break the ice in a tense situation, to make someone smile, and even give your son or daughter just a bit more confidence and likability in his peer group.

The simple act of juggling three tennis balls is an excellent example of a mad skill. I taught my five kids to juggle the summer after each of them finished sixth grade. Before that age, they likely didn’t have the cognitive and physical capacity to perform the required tossing, catching, reacting, focusing, etc. After that age, they may have been distracted by other pursuits of youth.

If somewhere along the way you learned how to juggle, make sure you pass that mad skill on to the next generation. Your middle-schooler will be appreciative. (And that’s always a good thing.) If you don’t know how, consider teaching yourself and then teaching them. Tutorials on YouTube are worth watching, but they all make it look more difficult than it is.

boy with juggling bagsFor boys and girls with a smidge of hand-eye coordination it’s an impressive skill that can actually be mastered with one good lesson and a couple hours of practice. Juggling butcher knives, flaming torches, or more than three objects is quite a bit more difficult and quite unnecessary.

Juggling three baseballs while your son waits his turn in the batting cage captures an easy audience. Once he gains some confidence, let him know that the key is to be nonchalant about it. Never say, “Look what I can do.” Just do it. As you can imagine, it’s an especially helpful skill for kids who are a little shy or not so good with words.

If one of your kids masters the skill, give this reminder, “Use your power for good, not evil. Don’t misuse it. Don’t be a showoff.” In other words, juggling kiwis at a fruit stand or calculators in Algebra is not recommended.

Helping your child acquire a slightly difficult skill his friends don’t have has a high return on your investment. Examples beyond juggling? Reciting the alphabet backwards. Reciting all the presidents in eight seconds. The Greek alphabet. The sign-language alphabet. Whistling with your fingers. Nunchucks. Mastering a few simple magic tricks. Or card tricks. Rubik’s cubing. Playing the spoons. Or confidently reciting a short poem or quotation. I recommend “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost, the Prayer of St. Francis, or the ever-valuable 23rd Psalm.

For the most part, mad skills are not prestigious or groundbreaking. But doesn’t happiness often come in small moments? Moments that break the monotony of a lumbering day. Moments that relieve the tension of a high stress situation. Moments when we are recognized as individuals. Moments that don’t change the course of history, but may launch new relationships and forge new friendships.

Of course, your child’s life achievements should extend beyond playground feats, parlor tricks, and brainteasers. Once they get noticed, they’ll want to bring to the table some skills and expertise that have real-life value. Let’s face it, the ball player who keeps the team loose by juggling during warm up drills and then gets the game-winning hit is worthy of double honor.

So continue to encourage your children to study, practice, sweat, think deep thoughts, keep their nose to the grindstone, and burn the midnight oil to become the best at whatever they pursue in life. But there’s no guilt or shame in mastering two or three silly attention-getters so that—at the right time and place—they get some attention and liven up the day for someone else who needs some perking up.

By the way, if your kid is already the class clown, you can ignore this blog. But if they’re a little shy or tend to be too serious, then put some intentional effort into passing on a totally useless skill.

Action Points for Dads on the Journey

  • Take a moment to reflect on some of the quirky tricks or skills you learned from your father. Pass one or two on to your kids this week. If he’s still around, call your dad and thank him.
  • With your child, go online and look for video tutorials of juggling (or any mad skill). As you explore, point out places not to visit.
  • Ask your kids to demonstrate any mad skills they already have! Dance moves? Magic tricks? Unusual sounds they can make? Athletic skills: spinning a basketball, skateboard kickflips, throwing a curve, hacky sack, etc. Prepare to be amazed.
  • Memorize a poem, speech or psalm together. Perform it for the family with dad and child reciting every other line.
  • Teach your kid the longest word in the English language: pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanokoniosis. Knowing that word is definitely a useless, but amusing mad skill.

What “mad skills” have you taught your child? Share about what has worked for you on our Facebook page.

Read more from Jay at here.52 Things Sons Need from Their Dads

Also, you can check out Jay’s book right here.


Photo source: “Toward Sustainability with Three Kids” blog.

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