Words That Grow

Over this year, we talked about all the things that we can do at home to make music practice more consistent, smoother and more effective. Things like designing our practice environment to encourage the habit of daily practice, creating practice plans and having ideas to make practice fun.

There are many things that we can do. But often, what makes or breaks a practice session are the words that we say (or do not say) in the presence of our child.

The way that we choose to communicate with our child is key to his success - and the family's success. The words that we choose to use and how we say them to our child determines whether we create, bypass or negate an opportunity for our child to grow - and for us to grow with them.

Families who have progressed through the Suzuki Early Childhood Education (ECE) programme would know this full well: The most important aspect of a child's learning progress is how the adults around him react to his efforts. We guide, we acknowledge, we praise and we celebrate every effort from our child - and that of the children around him.

This is the biggest lesson from our ECE parent education journey to bring with us when our child embarks on learning an instrument. Applying it to daily practice isn't as easy though when you go overnight from a weekly no-preparation-required fun session to a daily routine where you have a practice assignment to work on and deliver at every lesson. Suddenly, what your child hears from you every day is "Go practise the piano", "You need to practise (song name)", "Go prepare your cello"... Wait a minute. Did we ever order him to "Go play the Tupperware drum" or "Go practise the words to Wee Willie Winkie"? We didn't. We probably encouraged him to "Come, let's see you tap a steady beat on the drum!" and recited all the rhymes together with him.

How did we go from providing direction to barking out instructions? For sure, we don't mean harm - we just want to get practice done. And either way, we will. But what makes the difference between ending a session with both parent and child feeling good about themselves and about each other, versus either one or both feeling frustrated and unaccomplished, are our choice of words.

We can choose words that help us grow, rather than get us down. I shared this list in a post on the Parents Can Coach Facebook page. While having a list of great words and phrases to refer to is handy, the best way to learn how to communicate with kindness and respect is to observe how our children's teachers do it and to practise doing the same.

One particular experience that stuck with me was when Claire attended a piano institute with a different teacher some years ago. I had forgotten to discuss with her which review piece she would be presenting before the session started. When the institute teacher invited Claire to play a piece for her to provide feedback on, my child decided to play her brand new learning piece that she had learnt just two days before. I inwardly cringed and died a little while silently lamenting "Wrong choice! Wrong choice!" as I was anticipating a performance waaaaay below her usual standard of playing. AND IT WAS.

The institute teacher didn't comment on a single mistake nor asked Claire if she had practised the piece before presenting it. She thanked Claire for playing, astutely asked if it was a new piece and invited her to play a more familiar piece. Words that helped us grow. And words not said that helped us grow.

Through that episode, I learnt what it meant to show grace. And in that act of grace, I saw how my child was given the opportunity to grow, instead of coming away from the lesson with a deflated spirit. In choosing what piece to present - even if it was the rawest one, she had shown self-assurance, confidence, ownership and trust in her choices and in her learning environment. She grew in the knowledge that she was not her mistakes. Her mistakes were not from a lack of talent or from making an unwise choice over which piece to play. Mistakes are simply small events that inform the teacher how best to help the child before them. Who was I to lament that she had made the wrong choice when her choice created room for us all to grow?

Because of the unique way that Suzuki group lessons are conducted, it is not only teachers and parents who can offer words that grow. Even the littlest beginners are invited to and encouraged to share kind words about their classmates' playing. When my youngest daughter was five, her six year-old practice buddy said of my child's mistake-ridden performance, "I love how you kept going until you got it right." I'm sure it not only made my daughter feel better about her playing - it made us both feel good about her self too!

The opportunities for the parent to grow through our choice of words is immense. We can choose words that show that we appreciate our child's effort, or that demonstrate humility in acknowledging our missteps (such as when I - 'The-Perceived-All-Knowing-Music-Mum' taught my child the wrong fingering, which resulted in her spending the entire lesson unlearning my mistake.) What I find most special is how the growth effect spills over and magnifies many times over in group lessons, when parents readily compliment one another's child with their thoughtful choice of words that grow both parent, child - and friendship.

Choose growth.

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