Let Them Teach

If you flip the script and let your child become the teacher they learn patience and compassion.


parenting perfectionist piano lesson
parenting perfectionist piano lesson

Today was a teaching moment with my 7 year old, but not in the sense that one might assume. See, she was struggling with her piano practice and that typically looks like her attempting a song, messing up, and throwing a pity party. She can get quite dramatic, by whining, thrashing, whimpering, rolling around on the ground, and sometimes crying. Instinctually I want to say don't give up, or you can do it, but today I stopped and really listened to her.

"It's just too hard!"

I decided to test her statement. I sat down on the bench and attempted to play the song. This surprised her because when she first started ten months ago, I would play and learn along with her, but after a few songs I stopped. I wanted lessons and practice to be her thing.

However, once upon a time, like when I was 10 and 11, I played an instrument, and not just any instrument -- an accordion. It's a long story, but let's just say I got tricked, a little bait and switch. I thought I was going to learn how to play "the keyboard." It was the 80's and synthesizers were all the rage. But no, when I walked into the music studio my senses were flooded with black and white squeeze boxes and polka music. My mom convinced me to give it a try, and against my desire to be cool, I was damn good at it. I can still play some beginner songs, but the sheet music gets too complicated and I'm forever stuck at Jingle Bells.

When I looked at the sheet music today I knew I was in over my head. The entire first page was left hand melody and the second page was right hand melody with left hand accompaniment with harmonic intervals.

I could see why it felt "too hard," considering her brain is merely 7 years old. The perfectionist in me started to question my decision to start her in lessons. However, she begged for them, plus she is very bright and her teacher feels very confident in her skills and willingness to learn. The challenge is how to tame the perfectionism that makes her doubt her abilities.

I let her see me pause and struggle. I let her hear me make mistakes but watch me keep going. And guess what, she started teaching me. She told me what notes to play, how to hold keys with one hand for two measures. I told her it was hard, but I wanted to finish it. She took pride in encouraging me.

I finished that song. It wasn't perfect or pretty, but I did it.

When she took the bench, she was visibly more confident and less anxious. Her posture was upright, her focus was sharp, her face was relaxed, and most importantly she did not let her inner critic hold her back. She played every note, not stopping and restarting, but pushing through. She got to practice being a good teacher to me and turned it right around on herself.

The power of self-compassion is real. By treating yourself with the same level of compassion you give others, you free yourself from unrealistic expectations. But like anything in life, it has to be practiced. I gave her a chance to feel compassion and patience toward me, then immediately apply that to herself.