Helping Children Develop Talents

October 22, 2013

Little Artist. By Eugeni Balakshin.

By Amy Hackworth. Image by Eugeni Balakshin.

I’m fascinated by natural ability — how some people can expertly sketch from memory, or play a tune by ear, or instinctively understand math, or show seemingly effortless compassion, or handle a soccer ball with native skill and energy. I believe we were all born with these kinds of gifts, though some are more obvious than others. These innate gifts amaze me, and one of the most exciting things about parenting is watching them unfold.

I’ve always hoped to support our sons in developing their gifts, to help them find expertise and joy in learning more about the things that come naturally to them. But so far, I haven’t been terribly successful.

One of our sons has some obvious natural ability with drawing and sculpture, and a pretty active imagination to go along with it. During free time in first grade last year, he made some remarkable 3-D creations with paper, crayons, and glue. In the spirit of good parenting, I was thrilled to find a great art class taught by the world’s sweetest teacher, and I signed him up for after school lessons where he could learn more and experiment with different media. And he hated it. Every Monday afternoon I reminded him that he loved art, and he insisted that he didn’t. It was discouraging to realize that my great intentions had significantly missed the mark as we argued about going to class each week. (But you agreed to go…I’ve already paid for it…You love art!) For a time, I insisted, but our little boy was so unhappy. Eventually, we cancelled lessons.

Another well-intentioned flop gave me some perspective: a friend of mine enrolled her daughter in piano lessons at age 8, and the daughter dutifully practiced for a while, but didn’t enjoy it. Her mother insisted that she continue practicing (can’t we all hear the refrain from adult friends, “I wish I’d never quit piano…”), and the daughter’s resistance grew. Her experience with the piano ended poorly. When the daughter became more interested in music around age 12, she was already burned out on the piano, and my friend has wondered if she’d waited a few years for lessons if her daughter might have flourished. Maybe we’ll revisit art lessons again when the timing is better for our son.

All this is to say, it’s not always as simple as I thought it might be to help our children develop their skills and find joy in them, though I know plenty of parents have. How have you managed it for your children? Have you moved past resistance and found a place where your children appreciate lessons? Have your kids experimented with lots of different things before they found a great fit? Does your own childhood experience inform how you approach this aspect of parenting? I’m looking forward to your wisdom!

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{ 44 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Rosamond October 22, 2013 at 9:08 am

My kids are little yet (3 and 5), but our approach so far has been to try to follow their lead. We are lucky to have lots of different types of classes at our disposal, so if they show an interest in something (so far, swimming, ballet, sports, drama), we ask if they’d like us to sign them up for a class at their school or after school program where they can do that. They generally enthusiastically say yes, and we follow up with them during the course of the class to find out how they are liking it. The classes usually only run for about 3 months, so the commitment is low, and if they don’t like it then we just don’t sign them up again for the next session (karate was not a hit, so we discontinued it, at least for now). I think they value it because they determine which things they’ll do, and for how long. Some things, like art and topical interests don’t require any classes at their age, but we’ll buy books on drawing or dinosaurs, etc. so that they can build on what they know and develop their interest/ability. There are some other things we’d like them to try (music, etc.), but we’re waiting until they show a real (and not just a passing) interest. I am trusting that if they are given some good exposure to all the things they like, over time, they will settle into a couple things that they will want to focus on and really develop. I was the opposite as a kid, very focused from the beginning (on horsebackriding–I absolutely insisted on it from the time I was 2 or 3, and my mom finally found a place that would give me lessons when I was 4, and I ended up riding competitively up through high school. I have less time for it now, but have never stopped riding or loving horses)–and my parents tried to force me to branch out and try various other things, but I kept coming back to what I loved. My kids don’t have any such strong passions yet, but at least they enjoy a nice variety of things.

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2 beka October 22, 2013 at 9:11 am

I’ve been playing the piano since I was 3. 29 years of my life has included the piano. There were many many many days where I would bawl my eyes out as my mother forced me to practice my piano. But you know what, once I graduated from high school and went to college, I started realizing what an amazing blessing it was that my mother never let me quit. I think there’s about 10 years in there (the teenage years) that most kids would probably complain and whine and prefer to just watch TV but I think that if you can persevere through the teenage years that it will pay off in the end. :)

I think that this would be different for younger children. My son is 4 now and I’ve been slowly teaching him how to play. He isn’t super interested right now so I just keep it really low pressure. Most of the time, his lessons only lasts 5 minutes, but little by little, he’s learning. I think parents will know when it’s time to push and time to let it go. Each kid is different. :)

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3 Celeste October 22, 2013 at 9:52 am

Oh, Amy, I love this topic!

My mother had the wisdom to wait before enrolling me in violin lessons until after I had begged and pleaded for two years (an eternity to a child) to get a violin and take lessons. When I was 8 years old, she surprised me with a child-sized violin and a summer of lessons. In the first year, I struggled with the fact that I had to do something every single day that wasn’t playing with my friends or toys, and she told me I could quit, but it would be forever. Then she would remind me that I had asked to do it. She was stern! Maybe it wouldn’t work for every child, but it definitely worked for me.

Within just a couple years, my violin lessons and practicing eventually was not a chore but a joy and something I was proud of doing for so long. By the time I was in high school, I was proficient and looked for opportunities to play in groups and perform. (That’s when I met Janessa!)

I think I needed a mother who saw my lessons as not just a “fun” thing that developed my talents, but as a way to teach responsibility.

All that said, I didn’t complain every day, or even every week about it. I think it was about once a month that I wanted to quit. Hopefully, you can find a way that resonates with him to encourage his creativity!

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4 Amy Hackworth October 23, 2013 at 5:46 pm

This is great, Celeste! Thanks for sharing! I love your mom’s wisdom, and love that you play the violin so well.

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5 Amy October 22, 2013 at 9:55 am

Now that my kids are older (17 and 14), I see that the kids who are accomplished in specific areas in high school, to the level of making All-State in music or a select travel team in baseball, all started their activities very young. As Malcolm Gladwell pointed out, it takes 10,000 hours of practice to master something. The kids who are going to art schools and music conservatories, or who are getting sports scholarships to good schools have all put in their 10,000 hours (or close). Having said that, I don’t think it is a good idea to pressure kids to take on activities they don’t enjoy. It’s a fine line, to be sure.

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6 chelle October 22, 2013 at 10:11 am

I remember an interview with one mom, where she talked about her children’s piano lessons. She enrolled them in piano because they didn’t have a farm – if they couldn’t milk cows, then piano would teach them to work hard and have the discipline to persist in things they didn’t want to do. Isn’t that an amazing perspective?

I’m a perfectionist, so piano lessons were torture for me. I just never felt good enough. But my mom expected me to learn, and I did (until my senior year, when she’d finally had enough of my breakdowns). Now I’m grateful to have that skill.

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7 Amy Hackworth October 23, 2013 at 5:43 pm

I really like that line of thinking. We don’t have a farm, but we have lots of other opportunities for hard work and discipline. I’m going to be thinking about this for a long time, Chelle. Thanks!

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8 Meagan Claire October 23, 2013 at 9:18 pm

My mom never said it was because we didn’t have a farm (although she does have one now), but she did enroll my brother and I in piano lessons to teach us self-discipline and responsibility. I did not appreciate it at the time, but as an adult, I certainly see the benefits. Not because I have a lovely parlor skill (because I don’t), but because I learned the skills necessary to begin a thing and see it through to the end. When I see this important quality lacking in someone else, I think, “Her mother didn’t make her practice piano.” :p

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9 julia-tagandtibby October 22, 2013 at 10:13 am

I don’t have any words of wisdom as my little ones are still on the small side (4+6) but I do think passions tend to develop later in life (high school on). So far we’ve let our kids pick and choose sports to get an idea of what they like. But I think its good to have something like Piano just be a part of their education. Much like learning to write or spell. Non optional at least through middle school (thats when my parents gave me a choice to continue) …

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10 Cheyenne October 22, 2013 at 10:31 am

My daughter is a remarkable writer. In 1st grade she wrote the most creative stories for a child her age, including dialogue. All throughout elementary I felt sure she’d one day become a talented screenwriter or novelist. However, the more I and other family members praised her writing, the less enthused she became. At one point she told me she hated writing. Now a senior in high school, she’s proud again to show me her writing and happy to listen to my praise. She’s taking a creative writing class and I think she may begin blogging again. I think she needed to find her own way back to writing without any prodding or over-praising on her family’s part.

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11 Amy Hackworth October 23, 2013 at 5:44 pm

This is so interesting, and looks like other readers share similar stories below. Our son was really upset when we made a big deal about how well he was reading. This really gets me thinking about praise, Cheyenne.

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12 Rachel November 12, 2013 at 10:04 am

Re: praise, check out the chapter on it in ‘NurtureShock’. The book is well worth reading in its entirety.

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13 Heather October 22, 2013 at 11:26 am

I started a lot of things to only quit them later on: tennis (a few sessions), tee-ball (all it took was one game of me standing in the outfield praying that the ball wouldn’t be hit toward me; and being thankful that we were all 5 & 6 years old and no one could really hit the ball that far, yet). The thing I wanted to do, SO BADLY, was dance. My mom (smartly, I think now) made me wait. I was young and she didn’t want me to be in such a pressure-filled, competitive environment so young. I think the whole wearing a ton of make-up and dancing on stage as a 3-year-old kind of freaked her out. Eventually, when I was 11, she let me start taking dance. I had found my love. I danced 6 days a week, and even went away to boarding school for dance in high school. If not for a back injury that eventually led to chronic pain, I believe that would have been my career. Even gymnastics, which I had taken since I was 4 did not stick once I started dance. It was the thing that I started right at the beginning of my adolescence that I still think in, and about, to this day. I’m not sure if my mom’s a genius or if I was just programmed to love dance, maybe a little bit of both. In any case, starting something at 11 years old fed a passion that was growing.

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14 Me and Wee October 22, 2013 at 11:30 am

I have found that my daughter likes to make her own plans and find her own joy without it being hampered by my input. If I praise her; she sometimes becomes defiant. I think they just don’t want to be judged (whether good or bad) and just want to “play.” I think the culture now is to put kids in classes for something they seem to enjoy and I don’t think a class connotes something fun or enjoyable…only because it’s someone else’s project idea and “rules” for the project. I’ve decided to let my daughter and son find their own way without my input. I’ll toss a casual “wow! That’s so creative!” when she’s showing me something she’s made and I make an effort to display her artworks where she wants to hang them. But taking what is fun for them and then turning it into something like work (i.e. a class) can ruin the point of leisure time and play and imagination. That is the one thing they should have control over. This is just my two cents.

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15 Sheri October 22, 2013 at 12:10 pm

I totally believe that some ‘talents’ are not fun until you are good at it. I did not like piano for years until I could actually play a lot of different music, especially from artists I loved. Sometimes the developing and practicing is brutal but all worth it in the end.

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16 Corrie Anne October 22, 2013 at 1:10 pm

Love this thread — as a piano teacher, I always encourage parents to give it a significant amount of time before they let their kids quit. It’s also very important to choose a teacher that is the right fit for your student. At times, I had teachers who were far too easy-going. That actually made it boring for me!! I needed a teacher who was positive and encouraging, but with high expectations.

Before letting kids quit, I would ask if there is anything you can do to make their practice more enjoyable and less lonely? Maybe a duet or some ensemble music will be motivational. I don’t think there are many people who wouldn’t enjoy playing piano, but there are always ebbs & flows and bumps along the way. Another issue can be if kids are involved in too many things at once. I have a pre-k student who is in 4 different types of lessons. Honestly, she has made very little progress because with all that activity she has limited practice time. I probably wouldn’t have accepted her as a student with that kind of schedule, but she started piano first.

My parents had me wait until I was 9 to begin piano lessons, and I was so ready. I never considered quitting, but I definitely tried to talk my mom out of letting me skip lessons when I hadn’t practice (never worked)!!!

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17 Kelly October 22, 2013 at 1:29 pm

My son is just at the age where his interests are beginning to show themselves but I have re-read this piece by Heather Armstrong several times. It somehow hits home about my own childhood and how my parents encouraged my perfectionist self through difficult things. I didn’t realize what they were doing then but this really nails it.
http://dooce.com/2013/02/26/try-try-again/

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18 Amy T October 22, 2013 at 1:52 pm

Hear, hear, to Malcolm Gladwell and practice, practice, practice! Hear, hear, to some talents being “not fun” until you’re proficient!

My daughter was identified with a natural talent in ballet. When we moved to a new dance program, she cried her eyes out before class, four lessons in a row. I told her that we had made a commitment and would stick it out through the Nutcracker recital. I ignored her complaints on the way to class, and handed her a hefty snack. I also paid very close attention to how she felt AFTER each class. Her preschool teacher gave us that advice in relation to deciding how much TV/screen time was too much — is her behavior better or worse afterward? We apply that to a lot of things, now. In the case of ballet, the teacher and I agreed to move her down one level when she seemed too stressed. And lo and behold, in the new class was a friend from school (SO helpful) and just the right balance of fun and structure.

Now she’s a little resistant to go after her long school day, but SO invigorated and happy afterward. She doesn’t want to leave, and goes home to spin and twirl all night. I liken it to me going to yoga class — I’ll do a lot to resist it, but boy am I happy that I did!

And, watching the occasional youtube clip of amazing dancers is great for lighting that passionate spark in her eye. “How does her body do THAT?” “Lots and lots of practice, kiddo. Do you see the joy in her eyes?”

I think we should always trust our gut if our child is unhappy — it’s pulling apart what *causing* the unhappiness that is so tricky. Is it getting to class that’s a drag? Is it too much praise? (When we shine to bright a light on our kids’ achievements, they can resist. Praise the effort, not the child, is great advice.) When we push too hard, we can burn them out. But, sticking with something can reap so many rewards. In your case, Amy, I wonder if the pure freedom of making art was where your son found joy, and adding a class was too much structure, for now? In my case, I couldn’t teach my daughter ballet — but with artwork, maybe it’s just a matter of providing lots of materials and books at home until he’s older.

Finally (this got my brain spinning, can you tell!), there’s some fascinating research about the stages of learning and mastery in this article: http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2013/10/17/ok-plateau/

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19 Kelly October 22, 2013 at 3:13 pm

I love this topic. As mothers we all want the best for our children, and it is so hard to know what the best is! My oldest is 9, and is in her 4th year of piano. She hated it for the first 3 years. Practicing was a chore. She did enjoy the admiration when she played. I considered allowing her to quit, but having quit playing soccer as a kid, I was always worried that I would be teaching her to quit when something got hard. I am so glad that we have persevered, she loves to practice now, even with no audience. I do still need to remind her to do so, but that is part of her age. But have I signed my other children up for lessons? Not yet.
My children have been taught the importance of making a commitment and following through via Karate (ATA) lessons, which require a 1 year or 2 year commitment. I believe this has helped my son immeasurably! He now realizes that lessons and practice are a part of our lives and routine, skipping is not optional. So maybe piano lessons are on the horizon for him.

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20 Amy Hackworth October 23, 2013 at 5:40 pm

I love that you say he now realizes that lessons and practice are part of your lives and routine. So good.

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21 Allison October 22, 2013 at 3:33 pm

I do think organized activities can be wonderful, but I think the child should be involved in the choice and that the parent should be prepared for the child to discover that it’s not for them afterall. Not that they should get to waste a ton of money switching between things and not finishing anything, of course. But that there is the option of pursuing something different in the next term if they prefer.

A lot of this dilemma sounds more like a parental hangup with achievement. I think natural talents and passions (in young children) are more likely to be squashed by a parent trying to impose an adult structure on the activity (ie. classes or lessons) rather than allowing the child to explore it freely, in the way they are drawn to it (unless of course they are initiating and enthusiastic about taking a class ). If your kid loves making things with paper and glue in their free time, have a cupboard or shelf of interesting art supplies available and let them direct it. Whatever the interest, there are lower commitment ways to encourage it until it becomes clear that a class would be beneficial (e.g. get books out of the library on the topic, go on weekend fieldtrips related to the interest, etc). Especially when it comes to young children, it is very unusual that they will have the attention span and focus to want to single-mindedly pursue some specific “talent”. In the vast majority of cases, their interest may fluctuate and it’s a parental desire for an “exceptional” child that is behind the supposedly well-intentioned encouragement of signing them up for classes. Most kids will want to explore a variety of different interests and fostering that ability to explore at their own pace and to their own level of engagement is what will eventually allow them to discover for themselves what talents they want to hone and practice. Particularly if the child is under 10, they’re not somehow missing out on some great ability that will disappear.

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22 Amy Hackworth October 23, 2013 at 5:48 pm

Great thoughts, Allison. I agree that sometimes these efforts are tied up in parental desires. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

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23 teresa October 22, 2013 at 6:59 pm

My children are all grown and some have children of their own…what did we do…we let them play for hours outside….using their imaginations…. to make movies, write plays, pretend to be New casters, pilots, super hero’s and mommy’s and Daddy’s.
We gave them the opportunity to explore music, sports and literature. They learned to cook and to work.
We believe they all found their “Happy” we have a pilot, an communicator,
a computer code writer, they play the piano, they write, they cook like a chief….they teach their children to play…. I’m so glad my Grandchildren play….and I see future, scientist, rock stars, author….and happy children….don’t push let them play….then just guide.
Happy day

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24 Mirinda October 22, 2013 at 8:58 pm

My 4yo is DRIVEN when its it’s something she cares about and can not be bribed or punished when she doesn’t. She is an amazing little dancer, but but refuses to practice. We gave up on dance classes. She struggles to swim but amazes me with her persistence. She is only 4 but I have learned my lesson and will follow her lead.

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25 Roseann October 22, 2013 at 9:27 pm

I have eight children. All eight children play the piano proficiently, and three of them also play the violin proficiently. Through the years they’ve complained about practicing, but they’ve also complained about homework, chores and bath time. All complaints fell on deaf ears. Quitting was never an option. Just like quitting school, not bathing, and neglecting chores was never an option. We just patiently took it one day at a time and encouraged them to keep going and do their very best at everything they did. It really is amazing what you can fit into your day when you limit the use of electronics in your home.
All our children love and appreciate their ability to play their instruments and consider it a tremendous joy to have in their lives. It has added, and continues to add a wonderful feeling in our home.

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26 Amy Hackworth October 23, 2013 at 5:49 pm

I appreciate your thoughts about complaining. Kids tend to complain about a lot of things, lessons included. How wonderful to have so many accomplished musicians in your home!

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27 Maike October 23, 2013 at 12:45 am

I always wanted to support my daughter at an early age which whatever she liked to do but found it somehow frustrating, because kids often bloom in situations that you cannot really set up and certain talents get really shy when you try to bring them out.
A German philosopher once said in an interview that creativity is always triggered by the lack of something in the surrounding and that kids who have everything right there for them only to grab it do not get the chance to develop it.
Since I have that in mind I hesitate much more, observe more and minimized whatever I offered, even when it comes to toys and it seems to work.

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28 Amy Hackworth October 23, 2013 at 5:51 pm

Maike, so interesting! Over-providing opportunities might actually stifle creativity? Great perspective.

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29 cath October 23, 2013 at 1:27 am

My son, now 11, started drawing before he could walk… This is a child who never scribbled , held his pen perfectly the first time he grabbed it. When he was 3 or 4 he could draw in perspective (3d). When he was 18 months old, he loved opening and closing doors, so he drew doors for hours and hours. Then he moved to tunnels, then cars and trucks, then objects, he drew or house when he was 4, the inside of the house, he drew our bed from above, he drew stairs etc I was in awe, but his teachers never said anything, so I praised him but moderately, because I thought, well I’m the mom so of course I’m in awe of anything my boy does!
We signed him up for drawing classes (2 hours from 6 to 8 pm once a week) but the teacher put him in the adult class. He thrived. He never bragged, he’s such a modest kid. Now the classes have stopped and he misses it. He’s in 6th grade and has a ton of HW, any free time is spent drawing and playing with friends. His art teacher came to me and said he was gifted (finally!!Did I mention we live in France? Very little praise over here, tons of criticism though!) We signed him up for animated movies classes, and he loves it! We gave him a computer with software to draw, animated etc.. My husband is a computer nerd and is teaching him how to program. We offer, he takes it or not. we let him be, his gift is IN him, I know he’ll do great things when he’s older. It’s such a privilege to watch him evolve.
His 8-year-old sister has no such gift. While he’s an excellent student, great at math, literature, spelling, foreign languages etc, she struggles with reading writing maths etc. One day, we were discussing having gifts for doing things, and she looked at me and bluntly said ” but what about me? What’s MY gift? ” It took me a few seconds to respond, but then I told her she had the best gift of all, the gift of living life well, she’s loved by everybody, she’s carefree and a free thinker, she finds pleasure in the littlest things, I can just watch her play and do her thing, she’s the definition of HAPPINESS, and that’s no small gift!

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30 Cherie October 23, 2013 at 5:03 am

I totally agree with Me and Wee, my six year old daughter is very creative and I resist the urge to show her how to do art and craft unless she specifically asks for help. What she comes up with on her own really amazes me! I really think that showing young children what to make and how (whether by enrolling them in classes or by well meaning parental intervention), inhibits their creativity. Instead I provide a large range of materials and keep them organised and accessible for her use at any time, she never has to ask to use materials, they are all there for her use. When she becomes frustrated with a task I try to ask her what she is trying to do (ie I want to stick this to that) and then offer a solution (ie try tape instead of glue) but only if she asks. I think classes may help her when she’s older and wants to develop specific skills that I can’t offer assistance with but for now, she’s creating some amazing art on her own. We do have to clean up a lot to maintain some semblance of order around here but it’s a small price to pay, she can entertain herself for hours with not much more than paper, glue, crayons and scissors.

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31 Amy Hackworth October 23, 2013 at 5:54 pm

Awesome, Cherie. Thanks for sharing your approach. Good for you for resisting the urge to get more involved than you think you should.

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32 Tove October 23, 2013 at 6:18 am

Great topic – this is such a tricky part of the parent//child relationship. I started violin at six and had weekly private lessons until my sophomore year of college when I burnt out and quit completely. The constant struggle waged by my mom to get me to practice really took a toll on our relationship as I had grown to despise and hate everything associated with music. It wasn’t my “thing” – it was hers.
Now, at 31, I’ve begun playing again and all those hours spent practicing have afforded me some amazing opportunities to play a variety of styles with musicians all over the world. I swore I would never put my own children through the same angst yet found myself creating a practice chart for my two year old the other day!
Hopefully as the years pass, I’ll find a better way to encourage my daughter in whatever she loves while also holding her accountable and allowing her the pride that comes from mastering a particular skill. It’s so hard though!

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33 Lauren October 23, 2013 at 7:10 am

Our culture places a lot of pressure on kids to try a little of everything, and although it’s well intentioned, kids are definitely burning out. I have three sons. One is a perfectionist. One is the exact opposite. And one is just in the middle. My perfectionist is 8, and I see how much pressure he puts on himself. He tried out for a traveling soccer team, and I was stunned at how much pressure is put on kids to be dedicated to one thing. He loves soccer, surfing, skateboarding, baseball, and climbing trees and being a normal kid. But when kids start teams/lessons super early, it isn’t long before you feel compelled to invest ALL your time into the thing you’ve worked so hard at. But what if a kid is really great at something that they never get a chance to try? My non-perfectionist HATED t-ball. He was just 5 and I’d look over and see him laying in the red dirt making “angels,” that was his favorite part. As hard as it was for me (and my husband) he hasn’t been on a sports team since. I let him explore his own passions, and now he’s in a drawing class that he loves attending (which he initially wasn’t thrilled about). Sometimes, kids need a little encouragement, but if it’s not working, I think it’s better to let it go rather than push them to resistance. They will figure out what they love by being who they are:)

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34 Amy Hackworth October 23, 2013 at 5:56 pm

“They will figure out what they love by being who they are.” Wonderful! Thanks, Lauren. We have similar personalities in our sons, and I can totally see one of them making angels in the dirt. Ha!

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35 Theresa October 23, 2013 at 1:12 pm

Oh I have so much to say on this subject! My daughter is only 3 months old, so I haven’t tried it out in my parenting yet, but I have a lot of my own experiences to share.

I think one of the most critical things is exposure. Someone on here mentioned watching ballet on youtube. Such a good idea! I quit clarinet after one year because I didn’t like my band teacher, and the music was boring. But I didn’t even know what good clarinet music sounded like. It wasn’t until many years later when I learned about jazz clarinet. Holy smokes, that stuff is cool! Now I’m in love with Benny Goodman tunes, but my clarinet is long gone. What I needed in my youth was to listen to the masters in a few different styles, attend some concerts of both pros and peers. When all you experience is the Johnny-one-note part of a 6th grade band class, it’s hard to look forward to anything better.

Just the same, I fell in love with gymnastics during the Olympics when I was 9, so I convinced my mom to sign me up for lessons. But right away, I realized I was too old. All the other beginners were 5 or 6 years old, so I was clumsy and tall compared to them. But when I was 5, I didn’t even know what gymnastics was. I wish I had been able to explore more options when I was young.

I think it’s the same with piano. If you only go through the silly lesson books, you end up playing pretty lame music. But if you listen to a lot of different styles of piano music and try out some melodies that you like, I think you’re more likely to enjoy practicing.

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36 Jen October 23, 2013 at 3:09 pm

For me this is one of the most interesting discussions in parenting. I tend to fall more on the nurture side of this debate: http://palecetacean.com/2013/10/03/born-this-way/

BUT I am always interested in hearing others’ points of view on the topic and I try to be flexible. While I don’t believe in talent IN MOST CASES having anything to do with genetic predetermination, there are unaccounted for differences between children in terms of interest and motivation. Fascinating topic!

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37 Amy Hackworth October 23, 2013 at 5:58 pm

I agree that this is such a fascinating parenting topic, and everyone’s offered such interesting comments and stories. It really is an issue with lots and lots of pros and cons. Thanks for sharing your post!

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38 Julia October 23, 2013 at 7:04 pm

Hi Amy,
I really enjoyed Shinichi Suzuki’s book, “Nurtured by Love.” I am not claiming any success in figuring out the parent’s role in ‘encouraging’ children’s talents, but I did learn a lot from this book.

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39 Heidi October 23, 2013 at 11:45 pm

super interesting topic!
I have my two oldest (ages 6 and 5) playing violin.
They only practice 5-10 minutes a day and we do it as part of what we do each day, like getting dressed, brushing teeth etc. They adore their teacher, who gives them 15 minute lessons each, but they claim they “hate” the violin. (their teacher is a college student) I tell them that’s fine. They can choose whatever they want when they are bigger.
My son started young, like 3 1/2 because that was his imaginary play and he begged to do it. One of the reasons I have kept doing violin with them is that it changes them. The days they practice are better days. I don’t know how else to describe it but it changes them in a noticeable and real way. It seems to bring out a calmer, kinder and happier side. I think it prepares them for learning other things like reading and math. I know it sounds weird.
Truthfully, I am not a parent big on praise, nor big on force. I don’t do sticker charts and my kids are not very good, really. But I see the benefits already.

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40 Shannon { writer + editor } October 24, 2013 at 8:53 am

Great topic, and lots of words of wisdom here! The only thing I would add is that I’ve learned that if my kids do something when they don’t HAVE to, then it’s probably a good match. For example, when I was a kid, I was terrible about practicing what I was supposed to for my piano lessons, but I played all the time. So my parents hung in there, carting me to lessons because they knew that I loved the playing part, just not the discipline part! When we saw that our youngest spent a lot more time doing cartwheels than practicing her dance moves, it made sense to enroll her in gymnastics instead of dance.

I’ve often wanted to say to parents who are obviously living the whole Jungian “nothing has a stronger influence psychologically on their environment and especially on their children than the unlived life of the parent” thing that they should consider taking a class themselves. I started taking tap lessons when I was 42 and suddenly the fact that my girls were not going to be competitive dancers didn’t matter to me at all; I was too busy dancing myself. ;)

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41 Heidi October 24, 2013 at 11:08 pm

I still remember clearly when a professor of mine (I studied music) told us that if two children start music lesson: one at 8 and the other at 12, by the time they are 15 they will be in the same spot. (we’re talking average kids here) so I took that into account with my own children. Plus, think of all the money you can save on lessons!

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42 j October 30, 2013 at 10:14 am

Oh, thanks for this comment, Heidi! It makes me feel so much better! We just got a piano last year and I’ve been feeling guilty that I didn’t get my kids in lessons earlier. I guess the best time to start is NOW! Thanks! :)

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43 Crystal November 17, 2013 at 10:34 am

I manage art studios for a living. My daughter has been old enough to be in our classes for over a year now. I did not push her into classes one bit. She’s recently shown interest and asked to be in classes, so I’ll probably get her started soon! I’m letting it be on her terms that way she is able to control some part of her own schedule too. I think kids are pushed sometimes to “do” too much. Sometimes it’s best to let them “be” and let them decide what THEY want to “do”! :)

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44 Moitreyee November 30, 2013 at 1:59 pm

Amy,
Being an art teacher I understand why your son hated art class. I have never taught my own daughter, who loves art, art. All I do is create a space, and provide materials, and encourage her to have varied life experiences. Museum visit, watching craftsmen, and her friends inspire her. Since I do not have a kiln, or clay space at home right now, she wanted to enroll herself in a clay class. We started so happily, but it turned out to be again, one of those classes, where techniques are more important than imagination. And for a 7 year old, her cup and box can be crooked, it really does not matter.
Speaking about classes, most of the art classes, including the one that is adopted by her school, in one of the best school district of USA, is again, another packaged product, introducing artist after artist, without letting the child think or imagine. I am thoroughly disappointed.
I think for my daughter’s creative side to flourish, and to be explores as ” talent” that can be nurtured, I need to leave her alone. That is the best thing I can do for her. As I learned from the ted talk by Maira Kalman. http://www.ted.com/talks/maira_kalman_the_illustrated_woman.html

And to teach hard work I use the Piano class in the same way as above parents. That is a small half hour training that she has to stick it out, even when she does not like. And she is growing to love it. I have no idea which one would be her passion in the end. Piano, art or writing.

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