What's a Parent to Do? The Advice Edge

Constructive ways to give your kids performance advice

Posted Apr 13, 2016

Scene: the year-end recital at a music school. Nine year old Sarah (as I’ll call her) steps onto the stage and walks over to the piano. With worry in her eyes, she scans the audience of eager parents and friends, then turns back to the piano. Hesitantly, she starts her piece, pauses…and starts again. She stumbles through to the end and walks from the stage, head down.

As families later stream out of the music school, Stan, her father—newly arrived in town as principal of a prestigious school—hisses at her: “You have shamed me; you have shamed the school.”

True story….I was one of those leaving the music school at that moment and overheard his comment.

It’s a pretty dramatic example of how not to give your kid feedback. It does, though, illustrate aspects of what we all do: We identify with our child’s performance and we communicate with them at the first possible moment.

Who’s performing?

We care—passionately—about how our kid is performing. That identification is great—our child matters to us more than any other child. But: a central aspect of helping our kids become their own people is to differentiate between ourselves and them. That task is our job, not theirs.

Stan may have always wished to play the piano; he may have messed up some of his performances; he’s no doubt really uptight about his new role. That’s his stuff to deal with—not to lay on Sarah.

Sometimes as parents we lose sight of the fact that our children are just that: children. They have their own reasons for engaging in this performance area. What they need from us is systematic support to help them continue this learning process and to recognize their accomplishment.

While the end of year recital or final game of the season may be the most dramatic moment for assessing kids’ accomplishments, some approaches can be useful for any game or practice.

And as far as that goes, we adults can apply these lessons to our own performance, too.

Two things are vital to this review: timing and content.

When do you review a performance?

Right after a performance, people are filled with emotion. Being human, we tend to focus on what went wrong, what we flubbed…or just the feeling of relief that it’s all over. Because this is a time of heightened feeling, it’s exactly the wrong time to attempt any rational assessment.

When I ask kids what they’d like to do on that ride home from a game, or just after a performance, they tend to say: I want to listen to music. Text a friend. Stare out the window and think about nothing. Go for an ice cream.

What happens instead? Typically, parents assume this is the teachable moment, the time to tell their kid what they did wrong and what they should do to fix it.

How about a different approach?

I recommend that you and your child develop a plan ahead of time for when to review their performance. Over and over, I hear kids look for a break before this discussion, whether it’s two hours or the next day. When kids and parents can agree on a time to review, everyone’s much happier—and the opportunity for constructive learning is markedly increased.

What do you talk about? The 3 Questions

Here are three questions that parents can discuss with their kids. These questions help people reflect and learn from the activity. They give direction for future action. They’re good questions for discussion between child and parent.

1. What went well?

2. What did I learn—or re-learn?

3. What do I want to do differently next time?

Some people find it helpful to write down the responses, so that the learning can become cumulative.

These ideas apply, whether it’s end of season or the middle of things, whether you’re a kid or an adult, and regardless of your area of performance.

For some additional—overlapping but not the same—thoughts about end of season reflections and opportunities, check out a recent blog by colleague Dr. Jim Taylor @ http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-jim-taylor/7-things-parents-can-say_b_9647528.html

For some additional ideas about parents and kids in sports—but applicable to any other performance realm, a couple of books are standouts in my mind:

The Cheers and the Tears by Dr. Shane Murphy
Parenting Young Athletes by Frank Smoll and Ronald E. Smith

For a well-written memoir about the struggle to handle stage fright as a pianist, Playing Scared by Sarah Solovitch

And as always, if you’ve got thoughts or questions you’d like to direct to me, feel free to contact me @ http://theperformingedge.com