I taught a university music class last week for a colleague. She wanted a guest professor, and I was happy to do it. We discussed the periods of music, how chords work, and some classical pieces.
We also discussed music in their own lives. I asked the students to put their heads down or cover their eyes, and then I asked them to raise their hand if they had ever been criticized for their singing or their music. Nearly every hand in the room went up.
Notwithstanding that this was a college class and I was teaching it, I teared up. It took me a minute to regain my composure. I was saddened to hear that so many of them had been criticized for music. (Sure, for some, it might have been merely a legitimate correction, but they still perceived it as criticism.)
Children need to hear us praise them to others. It’s fun to brag about our kids, but how much better would it be if we talked about them positively to others when they could hear us?
My mother-in-law comes over for dinner every Sunday and she always tells us about what her other grandchildren are doing. One got the lead in a play. Another is taking violin lessons. Another started college and is doing well. We love hearing about them, but I wished she would talk more about our children.
Then one day I was talking to my sister-in-law, and she told me something that made me giggle. When Grandma visits them, she talks and talks about our children, and it was driving my sister-in-law crazy!
But our children didn’t know that Grandma was praising them. It’s great she’s proud of them, but how much better would it be if they could hear it?
Right then and there I made a determination to praise our children and grandchildren—in front of them—as much as possible. Being proud of your children doesn’t need to wait until they win a race or play a solo or make a touchdown. Being proud of the smaller, everyday things is often more important.
Have you ever told your neighbor, with your son present, about how he jumped up after falling during a race and still made it to the finish line? Have you mentioned how your little girl wanted to take some cookies to a neighbor, so she asked you to help her make them and they were yummy? Did you take an opportunity to let their aunt or uncle know how your son reacted graciously when he was given a smaller part in the school play?
My teenage daughter made a large batch of salsa this fall, big enough for us to can about two dozen pints. It turned out well, and we let her know she had done a great job. But then we went one step further: We told Grandma about it that Sunday. We also told others as the opportunity arose. Only then, perhaps, did our daughter know how proud we really were. There seems to be an extra layer of awesomeness when we take the time to tell others about something great our children have done.
Those young college students didn’t have that experience with music, sadly. Perhaps someone did praise them for singing at some point, but it is the negative experiences they remember. I suspect that if someone had been so kind as to find something to praise about their music, they might have tried harder to succeed. It could have been something as simple as how they practiced every day. Children tend to rise to other people’s perceptions of them. If they feel that their parents or siblings know they can accomplish something, they will also feel like they can do it.
One evening before a concert, I praised a young man at our daughter’s school for being a gentleman when he opened the door for me. I had a regular door-opener for several years after that. I also told his mother, who was pleased to hear about something good that her son had done, and since her son heard it, it gave her a chance to praise him, too.
But another time, when I praised a different young man to his family for holding the door, they laughed and told me that was a surprise, because he’s really not a gentleman. Yes, they said that in front of him!
And I refuted it, saying he was kind to me and I appreciated it. I told them their son is a wonderful young man—and again they laughed! Maybe he didn’t always act like it at home, but he was respectful and polite to me. How much better might he have acted if they had agreed with me?
Children need to know that we love them enough to see the good in them and the potential they have to succeed. They need to know that what they do is so good that we want to let others know about it, too.
Donna Howard is a mother of ten children—yes, ten—a grandmother of six, and has served as a foster parent. She has a bachelor’s degree in clarinet performance and composition. She teaches elementary music methods to education majors and owns her own band instrument repair business.