CoachMi wrote a blog post some time back about a topic that has been at the top of my mind for some time now: Tipping Points and Dips – the Value of Persistence. The point she raised, which I felt was an important one, was about teaching children the value of persistence. She talked about the difficulties she had been having with her son in getting him to practice playing the piano and her fear of turning into a Tiger Mum which is something she does not want to be.
When I first started Aristotle with music, the lady at the Yamaha Music Center said that there were two ways to approach music lessons – you could treat the lessons as something fun or you could approach them like school (in other words, you have to do it whether you like it or not). I opted for the former because I wanted Aristotle to discover the joy of learning the piano like I did and want to learn music for himself. When he resisted music lessons, I let him quit because I didn’t want to force music on him and make him hate it. I thought at the time I was doing the right thing. Aristotle was 3 years old at the time.
Aristotle is now 4 years old, soon to be 5. A couple of months back, he told me, “Mummy, I don’t like school. I want to stop school. Can you cancel it?”
It isn’t just school. This attitude of “quitting” and “cancelling” whatever he doesn’t like has persisted through a number of activities and it’s starting to bother me. In that one instance, he has realised that if he doesn’t want to do something, all he has to do is put up resistance and I’ll let him off the hook. In Yamaha music, he would do the opposite of whatever the teacher said. In school, he started acting up – he refused to pack up after himself, he shouted at the top of his lungs, he punched another child (very un-Aristotle behaviour! Something I would expect from Hercules but NOT Aristotle!) and just generally being disagreeable. The rowdy behaviour stopped after I made it very clear to him that school was not something he could cancel – like it or not, school was here to stay.
Although I disagreed with Amy Chuah’s methods, there is one thing I do agree with – that it takes practice to get good at something and it is only when you are good at it that it becomes enjoyable. The underlying point to her methods is the teaching of persistence which is a good characteristic for any person to have. Without persistence, you will never becoming successful in anything.
When Amy Chuah published her book “The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mum”, many parents balked at her methods. Some of us shied away from it and vowed we would never be like that. However, in rejecting her methods, there is also a danger of moving too far in the opposite direction. While it might seem Amy Chua-ish to insist that your child practice piano and continue taking music lessons, the imporant message to your child should be the value of persistence. If you keep practicing, you will get better at it. When you get better at it, you might discover that you enjoy it. But if you never give your child that nudge, he may never discover this for himself.
Let’s face it, even as adults, we sometimes require motivation from friends and family to “keep going” when all we want to do is “give up”. Some of us even hire professionals to whip our behinds when we start to slack off – one example that comes to mind are fitness trainers. Of course, as adults, we understand the reasons behind it better than a child might so it may require a different approach when you are dealing with a child. Unfortunately, that approach may seem “Tiger Mum-ish”.
It is a grey area and one that many other mothers have in common as I have noticed from the Well-Train Mind Forum thread: “guiding potential vs pushing too hard“. I have had the same experience with Aristotle who will insist activity X is to hard for him but when we persist through it, he can do it. The discovery that he can do it is also an added value to him because it provides him with the confidence boost.
So recently when Aristotle told me he wanted to stop Monster Tennis, I refused. Before he started, he was so sure he wanted the classes and he begged me to let him do it. I suspect that he may be experiencing a dip that he will bounce out of if we can persist through it. We had a similar experience with his Art classes – he wanted to stop them, too, but I insisted and now he tells me he likes art classes again.
I guess the take-home message is that sometimes a little bit of “pushing” is necessary. Just like everything else in life, the key is to find the balance between not pushing at all and pushing too hard.