Practice Makes Perfect

Do you have a perfectionist in your family?

My oldest has high expectations of himself. He always has since he was small. In his mind, he should know how to do something expertly even if he has little to no experience with it. Make a goal on every play, ace a new math assignment, get to high levels the first time playing a new video game. He’s disappointment and frustration that things ‘don’t come easily’ is hard for him.

I’ve often wondered where this came from. My husband and I have never pushed either of our boys to be perfect. We have asked them to put in effort, try their best, and not to give up when improvement is needed. Yet, my son’s expectations of himself remain the same.

My husband recently alerted me to what might be a contributing factor. “Have you ever noticed on TV or in the movies how easy new things always seem to be?” he asked, “Take Luke Skywalker, for example. They find him on a remote planet and before you know it, he’s flying a X-wing fighter with enough precision that he hits his target and blows up the Death Star on practically his first try. You never see Luke struggle to learn to fly. He’s just good at it. You never see him put in the work.” Of course, I could point out that we see Luke struggle to become a Jedi, but that is besides the point. My husband was onto something, rarely does effort get the lead in the storyline unless the payoff is big in the end (win the game, gold medal, blow up the Death Star). Struggle and the gift it gives in helping you better understand yourself and what you’re capable of isn’t always easy to see or appreciate.

I find myself having more compassion for my son (vs. concern) over his desire to always achieve peak performance. I plan to use the example my husband shared with me with my son. Maybe it will resonate with him, maybe it won’t. And if it doesn’t, I’ll have to practice what examples I’ll use on him next. After all, practice makes perfect, right?

How are you helping your child when they have high expectations of themselves? How are you helping them understand (appreciate?) the gift of practice?

I’ll be off for a bit to enjoy Spring Break and will be back in a few weeks.

Thanks, Coach!

Have you ever struggled to get better at something you thought you should already be good at?

I have, and it’s no fun, whether it’s struggling to do a new task at work, or unsure of how to handle a new childrearing situation. I catch myself thinking why don’t I know how to do this? and because it’s easy to convince yourself that no one else is sharing your struggle to think is something wrong with me?

I saw my son experience this very struggle with his new soccer team. While he understands the fundamentals of the team, learning strategy for how to move around other players and the rules on the field are still something new to him. He became frustrated in a practice and the coach came over to talk to him. My son expressed his disappointment in his lack of knowledge and ability to execute what he was being asked to do. This came in the form of an emotional outburst that was a culmination of his frustration. The coach wasn’t having any of it. He told my son to listen to what he was saying or get off the field. My son promptly walked off the field.

As a parent, it’s hard to watch your child struggle with something. While part of me wanted to go and talk to him about what I just witnessed, it felt like this was something I needed to let the coach handle for the time being. I didn’t want to undermine the point he was trying to make, and I didn’t want my son to think I thought he was failing or not doing things right. I could already see he was really disappointed and down on himself. I could almost hear what he was thinking, why can’t I do this? Why isn’t this coming more naturally? What’s wrong with me?

The coach waited a few minutes and then came over to my son who was close enough for me to overhear the conversation (but not right next to me). The coach asked him why he was sitting on the sidelines. My son replied, “Because I’m terrible and can’t do the drill right!” The coach bent down so he could get eye-to-eye with him and explained, “You’re a kid. You’re job is to learn. To get better at something you have to practice. Do you think Rinaldi never practiced? He practiced all the time. You’ve got to practice to get good at anything,” he continued, “My job is to show you what you need to do, and when I see you not doing something right, it’s my job to show you a better or different way.” He finished, “You’re not terrible, but you won’t know that unless you get back in there and try.” My son seemed to take his words to heart, but wasn’t convinced. The coach then added, “if you don’t practice, you don’t play in the game,” which was enough to get my son back on the field.

The coach and I made eye-contact and he mouthed, “I got this.” And sure enough he did. My son listened more carefully throughout the remainder of practice and even scored a goal towards the end of the practice game. You could see his confidence grow. His expression reminded me of my own experience when I’ve learned something I’ve struggled with, finally getting over the hump and realizing I can do this. Maybe there’s nothing wrong with me after all. It feels great.

I’m thankful that the coach helped my son through his challenge. Not all coaches would have done that, but in my opinion, the good ones do. Struggles are going to happen, and as much as we’d like to help our child, it will sometimes fall to a coach, teacher, leader or a friend’s parent that they respect. As much as I am present with my child, others being present–really seeing my child and helping them see their own potential–will be a big part of his experience growing up. I’m thankful for those who have already played this role, and those that will in the future. Thank you!

Who helps your child work through things they struggle with? Who is a mentor or role model for your child?

The Envelope Please…

There is something seductive about the Oscar ceremony. You watch an award show for people clearly gifted in their talent, looking their finest, with great attention to detail, including the envelopes that hold the names of the winners. The seduction part is how easy it is to believe that personal success and accomplishment comes only from winning an award. That your ability to be successful is determined by others (those deciding who win the awards) and not you.

As an adult this isn’t lost on me. I bought into the notion that success was measured by others early in my career and continued to believe it until I had children of my own. Who doesn’t want to win an award for their work? Who doesn’t want to be recognized or acknowledged for their skills?

As a parent I don’t want my children to buy into this idea that success is determined by anyone but them. A statue, trophy or plaque is lovely to receive and feels good, but it doesn’t define who you are as a person. It doesn’t define if your work or life is a success.

My boys are at the age where they are exposed to competition at school and in the play yard. My oldest loves keeping score. When he loses he gets upset. He gets angry with frustration when he tries his hardest and the end score doesn’t reflect his efforts. “I did so good,” he says with a mixture of surprise, and disappointment, “how come my score isn’t better?” His face scrunches up and he balls up his fists. He makes a errrr sound in frustration. My husband and I talk to our so about the progress that he made when he played and while he may not have won, how he is getting more skilled and improving every time he tries. “Everything you want to be good at takes practice,” we tell him, “and lots of it.” You can see his mind working. It’s a good opportunity for us to teach him about what success really is.

“Do you have to win to be successful?” I ask my son. He looks up at me with questioning eyes, like he wants to say yes, but realizes I wouldn’t ask this question if it were the answer. I continue, “success is when you learn something about yourself and grow. You might receive a statue, trophy or medal along the way, but those items don’t determine who you are. You do.” He seems to understand what I’m saying, but you can still see he’d prefer to just win trophies, or get the highest score. Just like I did as a kid.

What is success for you? What is success for your child? How do you help them determine the value they bring?