W.G. asks from Mountain View, CA on December 18, 2007
More on Discipline & Learning
OK, after the last post, some have thought it's us parents who are overachievers not the child. Truth is, yes and no. Yes both me and my husband are perfectionists; yet, as we observed to our surprise, the child was born with his own determination and his own preferences. His intuitive likes and dislikes had little to do with his environment, some of this is good - like he naturally wants to do well, even after we excuse him from his writing tasks, he'd insist on doing it because he wanted his class to hear his story; and some of this is not so good - he is shy and intuitively would like to avoid confrontation or seemly harder tasks for fear of failure. At times, conflict builds up inside him (and inside us). Take piano lessons for example, he wanted it after he saw his friend playing. He loved it, until it became hard - I totally understand a child of this age isn't fully equipped with understanding and skills to learn systematically or tactfully on hard things. So he'd fuss about practicing, yet he'd cry if he can't get the effect he is pursuing. In the end, if it was up to him, he'd like to play piano really well, and have his friends over for a music party, but he'd try to avoid practicing. We try many things, tell the teacher to go slower pace, and I repeat and repeat to him: concentrate,look for patterns, etc. - one step at a time, little by little it only gets better not worse, and remind him things won't be perfect and that's OK, the only important thing is not to give up and to have fun. Yet, he's only 6 years old, and he just seems not able to control his frustration some times, that's when he'd pull out other tricks that really gets me on the edge. This is what he does, after 5 minutes on the piano, he wants to go potty, another 5 minutes, he wants to drink water, and now he is hungry... That goes on for a while he's tired and he'd rest his head on my lap or tell me things from school, and impossible to focus on practicing any more. That being said, his teacher thinks he is one of her best students, and praise him every time she is here and he'd be so happy and promise to practice more time, then find it hard to do the rest of the week. Now I find myself teaching him about realistic goals.
Over much frustrations and struggle, we both talk about why it's hard for us and how we can both improve so we don't have to argue/yell. I absolutely hate to not talk nicely or rise my voice, but he really tests my patience some times. These are the things that we are trying, and they seem to help:
1) I sit away from him when he is practicing piano, or working on his writing. He seems to be able focus more without me being right next to him. Also I interrupt him less since I don't see what he's doing wrong immediately and I constrain myself to let him make mistakes.
2) I ask for his help in helping him. As soon as a frustrating situation arises, I ask nicely (if I catch my temperature rising:) "can you please help me so you can focus and I'm not yelling?" We discuss our strategies for not yelling at each other when things go south.
3) I let him choose when he does what. After school, I'd ask him what his schedule is like. He'd make up a schedule, and he seems much more settled on doing his things on his own schedule. Though this only is working well recently because he's getting older and has more energy in the night. In the past, he'd want to do things after dinner but he'd be so tired and it was just not working.
As some of you have suggested (and my husband too), I'm definitely going to think harder on what fun things we can do together. I have to try more effective strategies on the discipline and learning stuff, so I have energy left to enjoy just being with him and having fun! Suggestions and tips are very welcome.
L.K. answers from San Francisco on December 19, 2007
Bless you, you sound very hard on yourself (and I can totally relate). I think children are born with certain tendencies, AND the environmental impression from early on is very insidious. Frustration in children is natural, esp for the perfectionistic type. You can't totally eliminate it, but definitely do everything you can to take the pressure off. Your son is very young to be as driven as he is. Check your own expectations of him, and maybe try taking a break from the obligatory stuff for a week (the holidays are a good time), even canceling piano so he doesn't have to practice. And just have fun, fun, fun. You too. See if you notice anything different. Good luck!
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M.Q. answers from San Francisco on December 19, 2007
wow this sounded so much like me when I was younger I felt compelled to respond. I'm sorry you are having a difficult time but I think it's wonderful you are seeking advice. so many parents just ignore these types of issues, or just go along struggling and resisting it causes so much frustration for both the parents and the child.
when I was a child I was always very independent, I excelled quickly at things and had varied interests including music and art, but I had an extreme fear of failure. whenever things got difficult I wanted to quit, not because of the challenge really, but because I was deathly afraid of being embarrassed. I can see it now as very low self-esteem. my mother tried very hard and was very loving, but I think because of this she gave into all my whims. that meant trying new things and then quitting when I was scared.
Some of the things I quit were piano, violin, flute, softball, cheerleading. I can honestly say quitting was the worst thing I could have done. It created so much drama and everyone trying to convince me not to, it was always a drawn out thing with a lot of anxiety and I felt like I was letting people down.
I'm not suggesting parents force their children to do activities when they are really imposing their own needs and wants on the child, living vicariously through them or using it as a way to subconsciously compete with others. But there is something to be said for teaching your kids to follow through once they've committed to something. Not forever, but setting a realistic period of time is good. Once they've made it through the committment (a season, a certain number of lessons, a specified number of months) they've fulfilled their obligation and exposed to something different whether they succeeded at it or not.
I would really caution against letting your child quit something MID-committment. It's like not making them try a food they don't want without tasting it first.
If he is showing a real 'fear' be patient and encouraging without enabling them.
Find out what the real issue is. Sometimes at that age they still have a limited attention span and some personalities just always need to be challenged. Sometimes it is a real fear of failure (like I had and it sounds like you are aware of) that manifests itself at an early age and is disguised this way.
I believe the ONLY real way to deal with this is to allow them to fail, but they need to know you will be there to catch them when they fall. We want to always shelter our children from pain and embarrassment, we want them to like us. But more importantly, we want them to TRUST us. Failing is a part of life, it's not the failing that affects their self-esteem, it's how they deal with it and recover from it.
I am still dealing with perfectionism as an adult, and it used to be something that I would laugh off and roll my eyes at, but now I am realizing it is a real road block to life. It was an excuse to not do so much that I was scared to do. It is an unrealistic way to approach life and for anyone that is prone to depression or anxiety, it is an awful crutch.
I know this was long and winded, but I hope you are able to find the root of this and use it as a lesson in life for your son. I wish you luck!
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J.T. answers from San Francisco on December 19, 2007
I am surprised your six year old is still interested in just one extra curricular activity. My daughter is also 6, and we have tried ice skating, soccer, t-ball, art classes, swimming, and are about to start ballet/tap. Do you get my point?
I do make her finish the session - whether it is 4 classes or 8 classes or whatever. She is committed to continue until the session is over, and is not allowed to drop it until it is over. She needs to learn that she must commit to whatever she chooses, but is also allowed to change her mind and try something new when it is over.
Most six-year olds do not know what they want to do forever. And when they get bored of an activity, and are unable to quit it and move on to something else they make excuses so that they don't have to do it. If your son actually wants to continue piano lessons, that is wonderful! But if it is you who is wanting him to pursue it be prepared for resistance.
In regards to writing, I find that my daughter also does better when I step back and help her correct her mistakes after she is finished - and not bother her (unless she asks me) until she is done.
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K.W. answers from San Francisco on December 19, 2007
My advice to you is to have something else other than your six year old son to give your attention to. Be a model for him by doing something you want to get better at. Something that doesn't have anything to do with being his mom. He's watching you and learning from you and how you handle things. Let his successes and failures be his and not yours.