Two weeks ago, I wrote about emotional competence and how a lack of it in your kid can definitely affect their ability to feel inspired to learn something. I also talked about Pepper and how she often has a hard time when she hits something new or difficult on the violin.
In the past, her default reaction to a difficult practice moment was to hand over her violin (she used to throw it down–but we had to put a stop to that!), throw herself onto a chair, and moan “I can’t–I can’t” over and over again. If I pushed at all–saying “yes, you can” (if I was feeling patient) or “get up right now and just do it” (if I wasn’t!)–her moaning would turn to angry tears and lots of loud venting.
Let’s just say that I didn’t always look forward to violin practice.
One day, when things were particularly intense, I had a flash of inspiration. I told Pepper to put the violin away and come sit with me. With her head in my lap and while scratching her back, I asked her a series of questions.
Do you want to play the violin? (Yes.) Do you get frustrated because you think it has to be perfect the first time? (Yes.) Do you hear the music better in your head than it comes out of your violin? (Yes.) Do you feel like I have unrealistic expectations of what you can do? (Yes!)
As we kept talking, I realized that with her unrealistic expectations, she was setting herself up to fail. She was so focused on getting it right the first time that she couldn’t stand the idea that it would take more than one try to accomplish what she was trying to play. She was terribly impatient with herself.
She could physically do what she needed to do–I knew that. But she wasn’t emotionally competent–she didn’t think she could do it.
So I wrote up a little mantra and asked her to recite it every day before she started playing.
I want to play the violin. Playing the violin is hard. There are many things I don’t know about playing the violin, but I know more than I used to. I don’t need to know everything to be good; I just need to try every day.
So she said this out loud every day for a few weeks. Things didn’t get all better right away . . . but they did get better.
She has become more patient with herself. She has become more willing to try again if it gets hard. She doesn’t moan “I can’t” nearly as often (although it still comes around every once and awhile).
I think she’s enjoying practicing more. (I know I am!)
So, the next time your kid is having issues with emotional competence, step back, take a deep breath, and talk to them.
Find out what their goals are. Ask questions until you can help them figure out where they are stuck emotionally. Try to help them see the bigger picture.
Then be patient while their emotional competence catches up with their physical competence. It’s not easy . . . but it’s worth it.