“Why do I have to do this?” “It’s so boring!” “I’ll never need to know this!” We’ve all heard the complaints from kids—and we’ve probably made them.

Children’s therapist Eileen Kennedy-Moore, PhD, believes it’s important to explain to kids the value of doing such “no fun” work. In her book, Kid Confidence, she says:

“Here’s the rationale that I’ve offered to both clients and my own children about why they need to do ‘stupid’ homework. There are two things we learn in school, the what and the how. The what has to do with the content. What are the four phases of the moon? What are the five causes of the Civil War. People eventually forget a lot of this. But that’s okay because the what is just a vehicle for learning the how, which has to do with process. How do you get your work done efficiently? How do you figure out what your boss wants? How do you work with other people? How do you handle problems? You will use the ‘how’ for the rest of your life.”

 You will use the how for the rest of your life.” Telling kids that probably won’t keep them from complaining—but it’s a good reminder.

And for us adults, it’s a nice way to think about one of the key aspects of childhood. To be a child is to be constantly learning the “how” of all kinds of things, great and small. Childhood is the kingdom of “how”.

And mostly, kids love it. I have memories of sitting on the floor cross-legged at Christmas, putting together some toy, only to have a one-year old come crawl right into my lap to see what I’m doing. They are fascinated to know how the world works.

Not long ago, one of my granddaughters got into a squabble and hit a boy at a playground in a Chick-Fil-A. I pulled her aside and explained gently why “we can’t be hitting other children.” A couple of weeks later, I picked her up at pre-school and she came running to see me, all excited, saying: “Papa, I’m not hitting other children anymore! I’m not hitting other children anymore!” Not sure what the other parents thought, but I was excited for her to learn a new “how”—and not an easy one!

Now, the challenges get greater as they grow older, for sure. It’s not easy to learn how to work well, how to make friends, how to be true to yourself, how to handle disapp0intment and other emotions—and the list is as long as the days of our lives.

But it’s good to know that, as they sharpen and strengthen their “how” muscles, (with a little support and coaching) this is giving them a leg up on being ready to live well in the world. And we get to watch it happen!

(If you want to read a kid’s story that focuses on the “quest for the how”, check out, or re-read, The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster.)