As a parent of children involved in various activities and sports, it is often difficult to know how or what to say to best support your kids. You want to encourage them and guide them so that they can improve, but without being critical and making them feel as though their efforts are not good enough.
I grew-up in a family/community where hard work, determination, perseverance and strong work ethic were common place. I remember being conscientious and responsible from a very early age. In fact, to this day I have two recurring nightmares: one about being late for work and the other about forgetting to hand in a University paper on time and it being discovered that I am a fraud and really don’t have a University degree at all! So for me, it is difficult to understand why anyone would complete a task, pursue an interest or play a sport without trying their very best. Not striving for perfection necessarily, but working hard and giving it everything you’ve got in the pursuit of excellence. As a teacher and parent, I have always told my students/kids….don’t ask me “Is this good enough?” – if you have to ask me that, then it’s not. You should complete every task to the best of your abilities and only when you have done so, is it “good enough”.
Having said this, you can see how it is difficult for me to connect with my kids about their interests and activities without conveying a message of “it’s not good enough”. I really have to think about what I am going to say and how I am going to say it, for I know one of my greatest weaknesses is saying too much. I am great at picking out the highlights and complementing them on their effort, but it is difficult for me not to follow it with….”next time you could try to….” It is in my nature to want to teach and help my children to reach their true potential, but is our advice what our kids really need to hear? My cousin Elsie shared this awesome article called “6 Words You Should Say Today”. The article suggests that the words that have the most profound impact on kids are simply:
I love to watch you play!
My Revelation: There’s No Denying It!
No coaching at the end, no words of advice, just simply – I love to watch you play. When I read this article, it really resonated with me because I have used these words many times with my daughter Eden when she plays piano.
I do not have a musical bone in my body and get stressed when asked to publicly clap to the beat. I do love to dance with my kindergarteners and in fact will sing my heart out when in their company. They are five years old, think I rule the earth and they don’t seem to notice that I am not great at singing or dancing. We have fun learning together and that’s all that matters.
However, when it comes to knowing and understanding music, I am completely illiterate. I am unable to help Eden with her lessons and homework and have no words of wisdom to offer her. I can not read a single note of music and am in awe of her ability to pick it up so quickly and figure out songs by ear. She is the expert, not I. I simply “love to hear her play“. So when she practises and plays, my comments are always positive, uplifting and simple, for there is no advice I can offer. I wonder if this is what draws her to piano and music. It is her talent, her interest and her area of expertise. There is no criticism, no judgement. When engrossed in her music, she displays an aura of confidence. She loves to practise and play and never needs to be reminded. She is completely relaxed and at peace when at the piano. It is like her “safe” place. I have never stopped to think about any of this before, but as I was writing this post, I realized so much about her and can’t help but wonder if her passion for music is not somehow connected to the fact that it is something that is completely hers to excel at. I am sure to the trained ear, there are many areas where she could improve, but fortunately for her, no one at our house has the wisdom to offer any tips ~ we simply “love to hear her play“.
I played high school volleyball and continue to play most Thursday evenings. I encouraged Eden to get involved in mini-volleyball in grade 4 and she seemed to really enjoy it and continued for 2 seasons. However, there were times when she would make comments about not wanting to go or that she didn’t actually like it. Of course, being a volleyball player, I always had lots of tips and suggestions on how she might improve her skills. Many times I offered to go outside to “volley” together. She always said “no, she didn’t feel like it.” This year, she quit and decided to take up dance. Hmmm, I am not much of an expert at that either….unless of course you count “Tooty-Ta” – I rock at that dance!
It’s pretty hard to swallow, but also difficult to deny. Did I drive her away from volleyball with my “support”? I am guessing the answer is “yes”. It makes me feel sad that I might have made her feel bad about herself, even with the best of intentions. The lesson to take away is this, saying less is worth far more. Although hard, I will try to bite my tongue and save the tips and critiquing for the coaching staff ~ and just let my kids know how much I love to watch them play!
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