Having been a “negatron” for the better part of my life, it’s an extra effort for me to look at the bright side of life. The bright side about being aware of this is I consciously become intentional about it, more so when I became a parent.
I read somewhere about the power of the word “yet” being useful in coaching kids through challenges (okay, so it helps me, too). My 7-year-old was getting grumpy about her drawing not looking exactly like the Pokemon she was copying.
“I suck at this! I can’t do it!” she whined.
“Let me see … ” I appraised her work. “Hmm. You can’t do it yet,” I emphasized. “Try again later. Or tomorrow.” I could see that she appreciated how I took her pain seriously, and didn’t trivialize her opinion, or say, “No, it’s great!” as if affirmation would undo her honest critique.
My daughter is improving, a smidgen at a time, and I praise her efforts and incremental progress. She has carried the same persistence over to polishing piano pieces on her own without me having to tell her to try again. She knows when she hasn’t quite got it yet, but she’s not hung up about it.
My son is more easily frustrated with piano practice. There are days I see him light up when he unlocks a particularly challenging sequence, but many times, especially when he was younger, it was like pulling teeth. Now that he’s a tween, he’s discovering how to play the songs he likes, and he’s enjoying the process of figuring it out and searching for tutorials online. I remind him that he got to where he is now because of the many years of putting in the almost daily work.
He still gets days where he gets mad and says, “I don’t want to do this anymore! I’m not going to be a piano player anyway! I’m going to be a pilot!”
Then I ask: “What is the piano for?” He rolls his eyes and grumbles, “To make us persistent and disciplined.”
I then try to correlate his struggle in pilot-speak, something about the piano being his flight simulator. Then maybe because he just really wants to get out of there or shut me up but somehow he overcomes his challenges and he saunters off proudly.
Putting in the work
I recuperated from an arm injury and so I was doing physical therapy at home. It wasn’t new to me as I’ve done therapy after every injury I’ve had since my 20s. The first time I had to do it back then, it truly sucked. But in hindsight, I’m glad to have gotten hurt early on because the experiences have taught me that if I keep slogging through the discomfort and boredom of therapy, I will eventually get better. I always have. But I had to put in the work to get there.
My arm may be hurt temporarily, but my legs are still okay, so I jog. I do yoga twice a day. No major pretzel twisting, just 10-30 minutes in the morning and maybe a bit longer in the late afternoon, as I find it helps my nervous system and mental health aside from helping me gain better physical mobility.
The kids see me doing this daily and I find that it helps bring the point of progress and improvement home when I verbalize what I’m doing and why. It normalizes positive self-talk and opens the door to more productive brainstorming.
I bring it up when they encounter setbacks, whether it’s learning Math, playing badminton, or losing to Kuya in jiujitsu: “Okay, he’s got your arm. What else have you got?”
Asking the right questions helps her realize what else is in her arsenal, that all is not lost, and that she doesn’t have to focus on getting her arm out by pulling and expending all her energy in the process. Shifting one’s concentration to what you do have is a big mind opener.
My son has had his share of scrapes, stitches and physical therapy. Thankfully, all this hasn’t toned down his thirst for adventure. As nervous as it makes me, I know that pragmatically nurturing his fearless attitude is what’s best for him if he is to accomplish his dreams.
I’ve had to unlearn confidence deflators like “Be careful!” and switch it up with things like, “I see you’re taking a risk there. What’s your plan?”
These things don’t come naturally to me. I’ve had to actively seek out these techniques by reading many articles and listening to so many podcasts I no longer know who to allude them to. But if I am to upskill myself into better parenting shape (even if it is while cooking dinner because it’s all the time I have), then I do it. Progress over perfection. —CONTRIBUTED