You can tell when a child feels empowered. For example, when I watch my boys doing gymnastics I see a certain focus in their eyes. There’s alertness, eagerness, and willingness. They’re excited to try new physical stunts, even when it’s something difficult. They feel like they have skills and they’re excited to grow those skills.
It’s also pretty easy to tell when a child is feeling unempowered. Six months ago, my younger son felt very unempowered when it came to reading. He would shrivel up in his chair, murmur softly, and refuse to tackle words he didn’t know. At the same time, he was always willing to tackle a new physical challenge in gymnastics. Same child, empowered in one area and unempowered in another.
This relates to piano students too. Do you see your child eager to try new songs, or do they cave in when you ask them to stretch their skills? It is so important to keep kids feeling empowered because they will progress much faster when they have the confidence that they are good and can get better.
Signs of Unempowerment
- Drooping posture
- Low energy/enthusiasm
- “I don’t know” “I don’t care”
Signs of Empowerment
- “I care” attitude
Empowerment is the belief that hard work will pay off. It’s something that grows over time in the right environment. Here’s how to build empowerment in your child:
Just the Right Amount of Challenge
As your child learns to play the piano, make sure to keep challenges at just the right level. A common mistake in teaching is to make things too difficult too soon. This will kill empowerment. When kids feel unempowered, each new challenge feels like an insurmountable task. It doesn’t matter if you know they can do it. If they think they can’t do it, they feel unempowered.
Gradually build a repertoire of success. My boys feel empowered in gymnastics because they’ve experienced a lot of successes over the years. They’ve seen their flexibility grow, they can climb a rope they couldn’t climb before, they can do more chin ups now than they used to. Success breeds success!
When my younger son was in first grade, learning to read, he didn’t want to read the first grade books. He wanted to read sixth grade books, but he didn’t have the skills. This left him feeling frustrated and unempowered. We had to search hard to find books at his level that held his interest and that he could be successful with. Gradually he realized he could be a successful reader, and now he’s doing much better.
As your child learns the piano, make sure they are asked to do things at their level. Don’t force kids to go to the level you think they should be. Find their level and let them grow naturally.
Let Them Make Choices
Where possible, let your child make decisions about their practicing. You can ask, “What do you want to practice first today?” or, “How many times do you think we should do this?” or, “Did you like how that sounded?” Kids need parents to make some of the choices, but kids should make some choices too. The power to make choices is a key to feeling empowered.
Make sure you’re not overcorrecting your child. This can take away their sense of autonomy and their ability to self-correct their own playing.They should play a lot and then maybe get a little correction from you. If they’re making mistakes, suggest a practice game to help them improve.
This doesn’t mean you should settle for mediocre playing. Kids need parents to encourage them to practice until they can be excellent. They need enough repetition to get to that point of success. A parent can be a big help in making that repetition fun and engaging, but no one has fun when there’s someone constantly telling them what they are doing wrong.
Creativity and Expression
Encourage your child to make music as a creator. Kids love to improvise, compose, and arrange. Be delighted by their efforts. Let them know that music can be an expression of yourself, of how you feel. Suggest that they try different things, for example, “How would you play this song if you wanted it to sound really exciting? How would you play it if you were putting a baby to sleep?” Ask them what kind of feeling they think a song is trying to express. A sense of, “I am a creator, I make music,” is very empowering.
Don’t Give Up
Kids don’t always say it, but they don’t feel good about themselves if they’re doing something poorly. Even if the parent never criticizes, the task itself gives them negative feedback. A little voice in their head says, “you are not doing well.” They know it, and it can create a negative cycle. If this goes on long enough, it can make them want to give up.
When a child gives up on piano, or on anything, they have a hopeless feeling. They think they’re never going to be any good, and if they keep thinking that way, they’re right! Even if they continue practicing, if they’ve given up mentally, progress stops. This is true whether it is the child who gives up or the parent who gives up. Giving up is a total loss of empowerment.
You have to believe you can succeed. Empowerment is believing that hard work will pay off. Of course it will! It’s a law of nature. You get better at what you persist in doing.
An Attitude of Empowerment
One of the greatest gifts we can give our children is a sense of empowerment. They need to know that they can do hard things, things that seem impossible now, but through hard work and persistence will become possible, and even easy, and in the case of music, a whole lot of fun! This kind of confidence can carry them forward to a lifetime of success and willingness to try new things.