I can still vividly remember arriving back at our apartment with my wife and our first born son. He was 5 days old. We walked in the door, looked at each other, and realised we were now responsible for his future. It was terrifying! Who in their right minds would put us in charge of something so important? We had to learn how to look after this amazing little creation and fast! Almost fifteen later we have three kids, and while we’re not as terrified, we still spend lots of time worrying.
Our son, Declan, has been teaching himself to play guitar for the last four months. He doesn’t want to attend lessons, and prefers to practise by himself or with some of his mates, face to face or on Skype. He uses YouTube to find examples of people and bands playing songs he wants to learn. He uses an app called Ultimate Guitar Tabs to find notations and chords. He spends hours and hours, on weekdays and weekends, trying to master his favourite songs, riffs and solos. Smoke on the Water (Deep Purple),Sweet Dreams (Marilyn Manson version rather than The Eurythmics unfortunately), 7 Nation Army (White Stripes), Loney Boy (The Black Keys), Woman (Wolfmother), Heart Shaped Box (Nirvana), All Apologies (Nirvana), Something for Nothing (Foo Fighters), Rock and Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution (AC/DC) . I recently commented to him that I was impressed with how hard he was working to learn ‘Joker and the Thief (Wolfmother)’ for a school assignment. ‘It’s not hard work’ he replied ‘I love doing this’.
My wife and I have read lots of books, been to lots of talks, and gotten lots of free advice on bringing up kids (or ‘dragging them up!’ as they used to say in Ireland, where I spent my school years). Most of it I can’t remember, but there are a few nuggets that have helped.
I remember reading a book which said ‘you shouldn’t treat your kids as kids, you should treat them as adults with no experience’. This was an ‘Aha!’ moment for me. I realised that what makes me happy is when I’m learning new things. Learning gives me experience. It makes me feel that I’m growing myself and gives me more control over what will happen in my life. I have a growth mindset, which means that I believe that I can always improve my situation by personal growth and effort. If I don’t like something in my life, I can change it, provided I’m prepared to put the effort in.
As our kids grow up, we have tried to instil a growth mindset in them. We’ve encouraged them to ‘try your best’ and ‘work hard’. Recently I was speaking to a child psychologist and she gave me some evidence that saying ‘try your best’ is not the best thing to say as it can cause a fixed mindset. The logic is, if your child tries and fails at something and they have ‘tried their best’, then they will believe their best is not good enough. This will discourage them from having another go. This made sense to me, so I’ve stopped saying to my kids ‘try your best’.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about whether telling my kids to ‘work hard’ is the correct language. I personally don’t like working hard. For me, working hard means doing something I don’t really want to do. It’s not something I enjoy doing, as I don’t see any value in it. Yet, I will spend endless hours on difficult things that I want to learn or achieve so that I can grow. I don’t consider this ‘work’ and while it may be difficult I don’t consider it ‘hard’, as I see it as worth doing.
So, for me, learning something only becomes hard work if I don’t see value in doing it. If that is the case, our role as parents becomes one of helping our kids see the value in the things we want them to learn.
So from now on I’m going to tell my kids to ‘Play Hard!!’…. Maybe not, I have a 14 year old boy who might not interpret that in the way I want. But you see my point? Tell me what you think….