From the Top

Hearing so much about NPR’s “From the Top” this week has filled me with parental angst. Why aren’t MY kids writing symphonies, knocking off Chopin etudes, or sawing at the cello like little Yo Yos? What magical pills are other parents giving their kids to make them WANT to practice?

To dig deeper into these mysteries, I randomly polled my colleagues at WXXI, asking, “How hard do you push your kids to do well in music, arts, and sports? How do you encourage your kids to succeed?”

Here’s a sampling of responses:

J.P., mother of three, writes:

“I don't push, AT ALL. They hate that.

I encourage them by showing up at every single concert, dance recital, school musical, soccer game, horseshow, and art exhibit. I buy them books and videos and recordings and magazines about the things that interest them. I take them to see people who have turned similar passions into careers. I frame and hang their artwork, I find something good to say about every practice session, I kick the ball around the backyard and play HORSE on the driveway (b'ball game.) I track down summer camps that focus on their passions.

Oh...and I pay for every damn lesson, uniform, costume, and piece of equipment without a single lecture about how lucky, yet truly ungrateful, they are. :-)”

K.R., mother of one, has another take:

“Well, I have a bit of a laid back approach which has its good and bad points. My poor mom tried to get my sister and me to participate in a myriad of activities...none of which were successful but have provided us with memorable scenarios that encourage belly laughter to this day. Fast forward to my own parenting. As I was not a star of any sport or art, I hope my daughter (age 12) will find something she loves to do. However, I do not push her to try something, but I do push her to stick with something for the duration of the semester or course. I have learned it is too easy to quit and you have to feel you have given it your all. So, I am not in any way a stage mom. My daughter is very content reading/playing/writing/creating and I am happy for that (and it's much cheaper!) That all said, she is enjoying beginners’ gymnastics and I hope she continues for the benefits of fitness and self-confidence, but not competition. I quite frankly feel that too many kids are pressured and exhausted and I think they need time to stare at the clouds....ok...I am getting off my soapbox now...!”

And P.I., father of two, wrote back:

“I do believe in encouraging -- or even pushing -- a child to do well in music, sports and other activities, provided it's something the child has identified as a priority. For me, it's not so much a matter of "doing well" as it is giving one's best effort. There are highs and lows -- including monotony -- associated with every pursuit. It's important that a child learn the importance of follow-through, commitment, and perseverance; those are lessons that will serve a child well throughout his/her life. There's a real danger in simply allowing a child to chase the whim of the day. Of course, a parent needs to show some flexibility with rehearsals and practice time. In the end, if a child develops new -- and genuine -- interests and priorities, a parent should be open to a change in activities.”

Thanks for reading my blog today. I have to run home now and make my kids feel really guilty for not practicing/reading/creating/running/ kicking/sculpting/brushing/studying hard enough. Then I’ll tell them that no matter what they do -- or won’t do -- I’ll love them, anyway.