A friend said to me one day over coffee: Always measure and celebrate progress.
The only yardstick should be an objective view of your child’s performance in a certain area, over time. And not vis-a-vis another child’s performance.
We all know there is a lot to lose when we compare our kids to other kids. Besides, there will always be those who are more advanced, and everyone grow at a different pace. Everyone tends to be strong in certain areas, and weaker in others.
When adults slip into comparison mode, we all end up feeling crappy. What more for children who are learning new things every single day, and for whom learning often entails a degree of struggle and failure?
But you can always safely and objectively measure the progress of your child. All you need to do is observe your child and record what you see.
Here’s a short story to illustrate my point.
Early last year, JJ started piano lessons. I was hoping that he could develop a skill that was unique to him (big sister had not started on any music classes at that point).
So every week, we would trudge along to class and I would buffer some extra time before class to sit down for a bite at a cafe, and spend one-on-one time with him.
Because he was struggling with some anxiety-related behaviour, I was mindful not to put pressure on him. I told myself to just let him learn at his pace.
Through the months, I saw him grow in his skills. I mentioned to my husband more than once that whenever he was in this learning environment, where it’s fun and non-judgmental and safe, he seemed to thrive like any other child.
But as the lessons grew more technical, we hit some road bumps. I couldn’t help but notice that he wasn’t able to read the notes as fluently as the rest.
It started to get to me and it showed in my attitude. I grew impatient. I started to doubt and question myself — was it too early? Maybe he isn’t ready?
During this period, his interest waned and he kept saying that he didn’t want to learn music anymore. I think my comparing spirit and negative attitude did not help.
Finally, I told myself that if he wasn’t keen, we would quit. I honestly didn’t want to quit, especially as we weren’t even a year into it. But I also hated the feeling of forcing him to continue.
This happened around the last quarter of 2015, which was also the time when he started to show some improvement in his behaviour and emotional control. (Little progress in music, but progress in behaviour – win some, lose some.)
Since I made that internal decision to let go, I’ve relaxed a lot more. The funny thing is, he started to enjoy playing music a lot more.
It was like a 360 degree turn. So much so I was shocked at first, and kept asking him, “Do you want to stop music classes?” But the answer was always “No.”
Now, instead of grumbling when it’s practice time, he goes to the piano by himself almost every day.
In class, he now loves to be the first to go up to the teacher’s piano and play solo. Instead of shying away from the hot seat.
It’s been 15 months down the road from where we started, and he’s definitely better and much improved.
He isn’t the best student in his class, but that doesn’t matter to me.
He falters in his note-reading whenever he plays solo, but I never berate him.
I know he’s trying, and that’s all I need.
He’s showing interest, is self-motivated to learn, and has grown more confident in playing and “performing.”
And here comes the best part…I find this enthusiasm spilling over to many other areas of his life.
He enjoys school so much more now, and he loves playing rough with his best pals. Like so many other young ones his age, he struggles with Chinese. However, I notice that these days he would initiate reading a Chinese book together, or “show off” some new Chinese words he’s learnt. (We still have lots to do in this department, and I’ll have to reserve it for another post.)
At home, he shows up as a keen learner too and responds actively when I suggest playing our word card games — he recently started showing a keen interest in learning words.
I know we started out talking about music, but as I typed out this story, I realise that it’s about so much more.
His attitude…. His love for learning….His growing confidence? Priceless.
Just last week, we chanced upon a street piano at Fusionopolis; I asked him to play one of his key songs “Sleeping Beauty Waltz” and he did. It wasn’t perfect and at some points he needed some reminders, but he did play it to the best of his ability, in front of a small audience.
Through all these, I’ve learnt something.
At the end of the day, we’re not after a quick fix or an A on the report card. We’re after an attitude that our children can carry for the rest of their lives. An attitude that will help them show up well.
An attitude that says “I can do it.”
An attitude that says “I will keep trying until I succeed.”
An attitude that says “I am doing this for myself, not for anyone’s approval or acceptance.”
Attitude first, aptitude later.
When you celebrate your child’s progress, instead of comparing him to his peers, he starts to see himself as a child who is capable of learning, capable of making mistakes, and most importantly, deeply worthy of love.
When you celebrate his progress, a new courage and motivation wells up inside, and overflows out in the form of perseverance.
We saw, and we celebrated your little steps made in music. We stopped comparing, and you began to soar. Your music lesson became a life lesson for us.
I pray that you will continue to love learning, in every sense of the word, in all spheres of life.
Learning something new is often uncomfortable. And we often experience failure before success. But I hope we’ll be able to comfort and support you when you fall. It’s okay to struggle, it’s okay to be afraid, and it’s okay to fail — that’s all part of the process.
As long as you’ve tried, the rest is in God’s hands. No matter what happens, know that God loves you and we do too.