Building endurance in anything brings a mixture of emotions: pride, boredom, exhilaration, disappointment, joy and fatigue to name a few. Whether it’s piano, hockey, painting, running, writing or surfing, we will go through periods of great fun and great upset if we truly want to improve our performance in any activity.
Who is standing in your corner? Is there a coach who both encourages you and challenges your limits? Is there a teacher or a parent who insists that if you just stick with it, it’ll get easier or better or more enjoyable?
The role of the parent… It is so powerful and incredibly intimidating. What a responsibility we have to help our children be great.
I recently had a conversation with a teacher friend about a woman whose daughter is taking swim lessons. Each practice, the mom would watch and listen and after the session she would offer her praise laced with bits of advice, “Your speed is really improving, but maybe next time you could work on getting your arm to extend further with each stroke.” This is the most seductive form of “parenting”, isn’t it? I praise my child, but then I can teach her something as well. She mentioned this story to me because we both have children who are piano students. And we are also both piano teachers who have particular expectations of at home practice.
In her experience with her boys and their at home practice, she can easily slip into the “teacher” mode of offering praise laced with advice, “That was nice, but how about playing slower? More feeling? A little less pedal?” There are a number of seemingly super helpful suggestions. I have the same challenge with my little Ava. Though she plays beautifully and loves her class time, we struggle with her practice time. It’s not fun most days. I find myself vacillating between being the parent and being the teacher. My expectations as a teacher supersede my enjoyment as the parent.
Back to the swim lesson story… What this mom realized was that her daughter didn’t need praise or advice. She could get that from her coach. What she needed from her mom was appreciation. Those words that hold the space for her daughter to be inspired to greatness. Words like, “I just love watching you swim. You’re like a graceful sea creature.” She decided to simply be in the moment with her child and observe her daughter’s swimming from a place of appreciation and awe.
When my friend told me this part of the story, I thought back to my childhood and the number of years I gave to piano lessons and practice. I don’t ever remember wanting to quit. Ever. No, I didn’t always enjoy the daily practice and truthfully, as I got into my teens, I didn’t have a lot of time to practice. But did I love to play the piano? Yes. I loved to play for people. I especially loved to play for my dad. The only instrument he played was the harmonica (he was self-taught) so for him, watching and listening to me play the piano was incredible.
He showered me with his appreciation and awe. When he would record me playing so he could later listen to the cassette tape in his car on the way to work, I felt appreciated. When we had friends over for dinner and he would request that I play something for everyone, I felt appreciated. I felt like I had something to offer someone else. It made him happy. So it made me happy. And it inspired me to want to get better at playing. He never offered advice or criticism, just pure appreciation.
This is what I will be encouraging my parents to do more of. And I’ll be taking my own advice on this as well! It doesn’t matter what the activity is just show your appreciation and awe. Leave the instruction and advice to the teachers and coaches. They have the ability to develop the skills your child needs to improve, but you have the power to inspire your child to want to improve.