This past holiday week I’ve been enjoying my oldest son Garrett’s piano playing. He has become quite accomplished, and it’s a delight for me to listen to him. I remember when he was just a little kid starting his piano lessons. He had a big clunky book with huge notes and his feet swung from the bench. We attended his first piano recital together and he plunked out a simple little tune, his wobbly fingers tapping on each key. At the end of the recital, a young adolescent girl with long flowing hair sat down to the piano. She began to play a beautiful piece of music, her fingers dancing magically as she slowly swayed on her seat.
My son looked up at me and whispered, “Will I ever play like that?”
And I answered, “If you practice.”
Throughout his life, I’ve tried to teach him and my other children this concept. If you want to be good at anything, you have to practice. Sure, there are a select few who are endowed with an astonishing talent requiring little or no work on their part. But the majority of us have to practice. Those Cirque de Soleil performers who sail through the air have practiced those moves hundreds, even thousands of times. The Olympic gymnast who flips, twirls, and bends into a pretzel has spent many years on the practice mat to get to that point. The kid who wins the National Spelling Bee has practiced spelling all kinds of peculiar words for countless hours, weeks, and months.
Practicing Life Skills
My two diabetic sons have had to practice to get used to injecting themselves and sensing when their blood sugar is high or low. My son Kyle who is autistic has had to practice humor to get a sense of how it works. My stepdaughters with ADHD have learned to practice various techniques to calm themselves, taking deep breaths and learning to relax and focus. None of these children are perfect in their pursuits, but they are improving steadily.
Children with special needs have to practice just like anyone else. What they practice and how long it takes may vary. But in order to improve they need to rehearse their motor skills and behavior skills until those tasks become natural, fluent, and easy. If we can make these rehearsals fun and not drudgery, we’ve won most of the battle. With games, floor time play, creativity, and patience, we can interest our children in finding their own paths to personal improvement.
Make Practicing Fun
Over a year ago, I could not get Garrett to practice his piano. The whole thing was annoying to him, and getting him to sit down at the piano was almost as hard as keeping up with the laundry at my house. “Garrett, have you practiced?” (His response: Eye roll.)
Finally I had a discussion with him. “What is the problem? Why aren’t you practicing?”
“I don’t like the music I have to play,” he said.
“Well, what would help? What if I called your piano teacher and asked if you could select some music you’re interested in?”
His eyes lit up. “Yeah, there’s this one song I really want to learn,” he said, “And one that is played at the end of a video game…”
I gulped. “Well, okay, as long as you’d be willing to practice those pieces.” He said he would. So I gave the teacher a call.
Things changed dramatically after that. Garrett became very eager to learn his music and would sit down, of his own choosing, and play, sometimes for several hours a day. At times I actually wished he would stop, just so I could clear my head of the noise of seven children combined with the loud background music. But he was playing. It didn’t seem like practicing to him now; it had become fun.
The Fruits of Practicing
A few days ago, Garrett sat down to the piano at a family Christmas party. I don’t know what anyone was expecting, but they were clearly surprised. There was powerful applause and whistles. “Wow, he has a gift,” someone told me. “That’s amazing,” said another. One of the little kids in the room said, “I wish I could play like that.” And I realized in that moment that by practicing, Garrett had made his own dreams come true.
Parenting Skills Require Practice
The principle of practicing can also be applied to our own lives as parents. Where do we struggle the most? What are our weaknesses? For example, how can I be more forgiving? How can I be more patient? These things are not accomplished instantly, but I must practice them. I have to bite my lip, take a deep breath, notice the positive, give an effective compliment, resolve disputes, and exercise restraint. How to make THAT fun, I’m not exactly sure. But the more I exercise patience and calm, the better I seem to get.
Practice might not make “perfect,” but it certainly makes for improvement, which is something each and every one of us needs.
Kristyn Crow is the author of this blog. Visit her website by clicking here. Some links on this blog may have been generated by outside sources are not necessarily endorsed by Kristyn Crow.