When Mr Hare was four and some months old, I shocked the other members of our coffee group by removing him from a music class – half way through a term. The general thought was: how would he ever learn to follow-through and complete things ?
Yet, it was not *his* commitment to attend these classes – these were something *I* thought were important. I had seen how poorly music is taught in many state classrooms and *I* didn’t want music not to be a natural part of his life. The teacher was a stunningly patient woman with impressive musical ability – *I* was impressed. The commitment was mine: the decision to stop was mine. (He clearly wasn’t coping, what on earth would be gained by forcing a four year-old to follow through on *my* commitment?)
Fast forward a few years. At around the age of seven, Mr Hare started bugging me to learn piano from a friend of ours. He begged for two years. We talked about practicing every day. We talked about practicing every day. We talked about practicing *every* day. When he got to the age of nine, I agreed and we set up the lessons. This was a mutual commitment – he wanted to play, I said it wasn’t worth the money unless he committed for a decent amount of time. His idea of a decent amount of time was a couple of weeks, my became five years. That may seem extreme – yet, once I insisted on the five-years practise became less of an issue until eventually he practised without fuss most days – sometimes for only five minutes at a time and to begin with (that was adequate). He accepted it wasn’t going away, and he took the boundary inward – we are now in a mutual kind of discipline/ self-discipline situation, and he is loving piano to the point where he’s talking about learning for 10 years! It’s fun. It’s little stress. It’s his to own.
At the end of last year, a wonderful double-bass player came to the school to perform. Of course, after many, many years of practise and performance, he made it look easy. Mr Hare began to beg for lessons again. We talked about practicing during lunchtimes, this was our only alternative at the time. We talked about practicing during lunchtimes. We talked about practicing during *lunchtimes*. We talked about the commitment and the expense. He thought a year was an adequate amount of time to ‘give it a try’. I agreed. It was *his* commitment.
He didn’t practise. I attended a class and his behaviour was a.w.f.u.l. I realised that we had left him rudderless. He was drifting. He was lost. He wanted to quit. It was no fun. He wasn’t making any progress.
Remembering that he is now 10. Remembering he is excessively nurtured compared to most of his contemporaries. Remembering that he has LOADS of time to play and explore and lead his own learning. Remembering that this is *his* commitment…
He agreed it had been his choice to take it up. He agreed that he needed to practise and behave appropriately in class. We came up with a plan: practise during morning tea break – so that his lunchtimes were free for playing and hanging-out with his mates; and behave in class.
The consequence if he did not were firm and non-negotiable and he knew I would follow through: no electronics whatsoever for a week. (Every week he doesn’t practise or that he mucks about in class.)
The result: after a few minutes of consideration, he told me quite happily and without coercion or ‘fishing’ – that he liked me being firm. He visibly relaxed.
He has taken the responsibility of practise seriously, he has behaved well in class and he has made great progress. There wasn’t a murmur about losing his electronic priviledges that first week after I stepped in.
He has taken the boundary inward. He also said to me that *he* wants to work hard so that he can get to the fun stuff – similar to the level is on the piano. He owns it – now.
Excessive nurturing is vital. Excessive play is essential. Children without boundaries and a sense we are the authority in their lives are rudderless and they can easily become lost at sea.
If *you’ve* made commitments for your children and they’re not working – let them quit, it’s not that big a deal – truly. Open-ended, non-electronic play is far more important.
If *they’ve* made commitments and they’re older than nine or 10: make a stand for a decent period of time, then review the situation – those are the important commitments. They will think more carefully about making the commitment next time. Whatever *they* chose to do later, they will be more likely to follow-through with, even when the going gets tough or boring. ( Finishing the University course; staying with the relationship that isn’t ‘perfect’; applying for the job flipping burgers for which they are ‘over-qualified’ ; putting their own needs second for years and years when they have kids; etc, etc).
Think about it. Do you know any adults who can’t do the hard yards? I sure do.
I don’t know who said it this way, but I love it: “We can’t do our children’s push-ups for them.” We must, however, teach good technique (the skills to plan and implement that plan) and ensure that they do them!
…If we want to release mature adults into the world one day.