Trevor and his family ran in a 20K trail race relay on the weekend. 480 runners of all ages showed up to slog through the mud and arrive at the finish line completely drenched… and foaming at the mouth with exertion. I love the atmosphere at a race. There’s something about this display of the human spirit that inspires me.
But apparently the feeling wasn’t quite shared by all.
I specialize in people watching… and I couldn’t help but overhear a mother and father watching their son run the 3rd leg of the relay. “Way to go honey! You’re doing so well! Look at you go!” His mom shrieked across the lake. “Don’t say that until you see his finish time.” Dad shrugged his shoulders, keeping his eye on the time clock. “He’s not going to make it under 24 minutes.”
And it reminded me of my piano students and the differences in parenting styles I see each week. I like to separate them into two categories:
You are the Most Fabulous Child I’ve Ever Set Eyes On
This parenting style is undyingly positive. Their child is the apple of their eye. They would never dream of offering anything but praise. Constructive criticism is viewed as damaging to self-esteem. No matter if their child shows true effort or not, they are amazed at absolutely anything their child does. They believe that with enough praise their child will feel supported and reach levels of achievement as a result of having a strong and positive self-image.
If You’d Just Try Harder You Could Accomplish So Much More
These parents are proud of their child’s capabilities, but place heavy importance on effort and commitment. When their child does achieve they lay on the praise, but this praise needs to be earned. They believe that too much “undeserved” praise means that their child’s effort will decrease and praise that is given freely doesn’t mean as much.
Finding a Balance of Praise in Your Piano Studio
I’ve read discussions on how much praise is too much as a piano teacher. Do we glow about every little accomplishment, or does it mean more if you lay it on only when your piano student has achieved something great? Will your piano students’ effort decrease if they know you’ll be happy with any level of achievement? It’s an important thing to consider as it should guide your practices as a piano teacher.
I’ve thought about this a lot, both as a parent and as a piano teacher. And I can’t say I disagree with either side. Yes, I believe that building a high level of self-esteem in children is important. But I also believe that praise means more when the child knows they have worked hard for it. Kids know when you’re being genuine and they are really good at sniffing out a fake.
So what are we to do? My solution has been to find meaningful ways of recognizing my students. Instead of handing out oodles of “Yay’s!” at every turn instead spread your encouragement out in a way that gets noticed, is genuine, and is perfectly timed to make the most impact on your piano students’ level of motivation. Be creative in your recognition, but be prolific as well; children are young for a very short period of time. As quoted by Frederik Douglass “It is easier to to build strong children than to repair broken men”.
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