What do we do when our children aren’t progressing as they/we might like? What happens when they struggle in an area — whether an area of academics, obedience, or growth in character? One easy thing to do is to insist simply that they “try harder.” And in the process to wield our parental authority — sometimes harshly, sometimes gently — to insist on better performance!
Yet, in our own lives, how often does that work? How often, for example, do we actually perform better when others simply amp up the pressure? I think most of us know that most of the time, the answer is: rarely, if ever.
In fact, what we all need is not just admonition and pressure. What we need, very often, is simply encouragement and support! But for us as parents, pausing in the midst of our own busy days to actually provide that kind of extended support to our kids — who we’d love to be self-sufficient go-getting uber-achievers — so often feels like a rude interruption. Yet this morning, I was reminded again of the power of coming alongside my children and not just hovering over them.
This morning, one of my sons was practicing a relatively new piece on the piano. For this child, many things come easily; yet there were certain parts of the piece that were evading his quick grasp. I was in another room working with another child, but could overhear the mistake he kept repeating (I’m also his piano teacher). He kept playing it over and over the wrong way. Eventually, I headed over to check on him and found him sitting there crying and frustrated. He hadn’t asked for help at all — instead he felt defeated.
So we had a long chat about expectations. I told him that for him, most things come easy, and that I’m glad that he had found something that stumped him. I then spent some time explaining the concept of muscle memory. I told him that if he were to point to a note on the staff and ask me for the name of it, I’d actually have to think to tell what it is — but that if you asked me to play, I’d just do it without thinking! My brain already did the muscle association with the notation — much like we don’t have to actually sound out words & letters once we’re proficient readers.
I even compared my piano skills to a character in a book we’d enjoyed together who’d gotten his memory erased by the villain; but yet somehow retained the instinctive training he’d had as a secret agent in order to defend himself. My son liked and appreciated the analogy.
I then helped him to locate & circle all the notes he tends to get wrong, so that he could go back and practice those again and again.
So he worked on it a bit, and finally got over the hump; but was emotionally drained by it all. So I told him to go have fun & relax for a bit. Only a few minutes later, he came back and was completely giddy, and showed me some silly drawings he’d done since.
And he now feels not only that he can master that piece again on the piano, but that he’s not alone in the effort, which makes all the difference in the world sometimes! I’m so glad for this little illustration in my life of such an important principle.
And so grateful for a God who has done the same for us: coming alongside us, experiencing our deepest sufferings, trials and simply the difficulties of living in a fallen world. He’s our perfect heavenly Father, and gives us such an example for how we can better parent & teach our own little ones!