Home > Child Development, Creativity, Education, parenting > The Parent Talk: “Greatness” and Motivation

The Parent Talk: “Greatness” and Motivation

What is it with us parents – why can’t we just let our children be? Of course, encourage them to explore the world around them and their own responses to it, encourage them to build a relationship with the world and other people, but why put this heavy burden of our expectations on a little guy’s or a little girl’s shoulders? After all, these are all our own expectations that don’t have anything to do with our children’s passions and fulfillment.

So our son loves music. With every atom of his little being. We greatly enjoy his passion for music. Quite frankly, if I spent any time wondering what my son would be like and what he might like, music was the last thing that came to my mind. I certainly don’t consider myself very musical, and my husband seems to be more musical than I am, but playing music is not his passion. Rather, I thought, my son might love mathematics, like my father did (and like I did, the path I abandoned way too early in Serbian quite inflexible school system). Or, he might develop a passion for solving computer problems, like my husband, and he might delight in computer security and analyzing the codes that seem to me like they are beyond comprehension for any regular member of the human species. Or, like my husband, he might develop love of plants and animals, or of photography, or maybe, he might even love writing. My last thought was always, I don’t know, I don’t care, it’s none of my business, but I hope he has a passion, or two.

Now, at the age of two and a half, he loves music more than he loves anything else. I can’t even remember how old he was when we first noticed his passion for music. Maybe it was Goran Bregovic and his music that Andrei first fell in love with.  Sometime last spring, when he was about eighteen months. He would watch videos of Goran Bregovic and his orchestra’s performances and play his toy drum along. He spent many hours pretending he was playing a flute or a horn or whatever instrument he saw in the videos while using all sorts of objects (some random PVC pipe we had lying around, pen, syringe, etc.). Or he would play his drum, flute recorder, xylophone, toy piano – for hours.

Then, his toy drum broke. For several days I listened to Andrei using a toy tambourine as a drum, and that was more than I could stand. I ordered bongo drums online and paid for express shipping, hoping for a more pleasant if not less loud sound.

A month ago, Andrei suddenly remembered his toy trumpet that, I was sure, lay hidden in some corner of our house. We couldn’t find it anywhere in the house, and I didn’t feel like buying him another cheaply made plastic toy. He whined for days, and we ended up going to a music store one Saturday afternoon to take a look at real trumpets. Well, we decided they were too big of an investment for a two-and-half-year-old so we bought a few harmonicas instead.

That’s how Andrei’s music life goes. Step-by-step. What’s important, he loves music. Music makes him happy, it makes him wild. My husband and I try to support him the best we can. He’s been in some early education music class for a long time. He doesn’t seem to like it any more so we are realizing it’s time to look for something else. It’s a journey –  for Andrei and for us. I am not sure in what direction Andrei’s love of music is going to go. As time goes and he gets a little older, lessons of focus, discipline, and hard work will come into play. But, ultimately, my husband and I feel like it’s our job to follow Andrei’s lead and not the other way around.

Now this is what bothers me. Every time we take Andrei to any kind of live music event, which we do often (take him to places where he can approach the musicians, interact with them, many times play with them and have fun), there is at least one person (never a musician, it’s always a random spectator) who will at some point make a comment such as, Oh, that little boy, one day he will be a great __________ (pianist/drummer/whatever).

OK, I don’t think that at this point Andrei pays any attention to comments of this kind. He is usually so engrossed in the music and the instruments that he doesn’t notice anything or anybody  else. I don’t think that at this point Andrei is capable of understanding the concept of a “great musician.” But, in another six months or a year, he probably will. What I don’t want to happen is for him to grow in the shadow  of the idea of a “great musician.” Who needs a burden like that? If he, at some point, on his own, discovers a “hero,” that’s fine. But an idea like that to be shoved onto his little shoulders, now, when he is bringing only pure passion and joy to his music – that’s what I don’t want. So I usually answer, Maybe, maybe not, and change the topic or walk away. Indeed, maybe he will be a musician, maybe not. If he decides to pursue music, there are many ways to do it. Great or not, I hope music continues to make him happy the way it does now.

Now, this concept of greatness brings me to another big parenting concern of mine: external motivation (greatness) or internal motivation (the sheer joy of  creation)? Internal motivation, a drive from within rather than seeking “greatness” is something that my husband and I would like to ingrain in our son. A simple value. My father handed it down to me, I have always felt this was one thing I’d like to pass onto my child.

My father was a man of few words so I didn’t receive many lessons. It was only few of them that I remember getting and they sounded something like this: Don’t study for grades. They don’t matter. Study for knowledge. Or, in some other situation: Your A (or 5) in German doesn’t mean a thing. Your command of the language is so poor.  From those few statements he made over the years, I learned the lesson. Maybe too well. In the first several years in my first job, I worked like crazy for so little money. Money was not a motivational factor for me, it was the possibility of having a training ground for writing, essentially knowledge. At some point, I realized that what I was doing was a bit extreme so I started working hard to normalize my work hours and communicate a slightly different message: Well, I care about my job, but I live on money just like everyone else does so Yes, please, I  would appreciate a raise.

Nonetheless, I’d like to raise my son to be internally motivated. Yes, I know that the most important thing my husband and I can do is model this value, which I believe we both do just by living our life the way we do. However, I recently ran into an interesting parenting book (nowhere else but on my own bookshelf) that touches on the subject of internal motivation: The Nurturing Parent – How to Raise Creative, Loving, Responsible Children, by John S. Dacey and Alex J. Packer. The book was written more than twenty years ago, and I have no idea how my husband and I acquired the book, most likely at some garage sale. I opened it sometime ago, in some random moment, and read a few pages, then continued to read a few chapters. The book describes a specific parenting philosophy developed based on some study conducted by the Boston College Graduate Program in Human Development. It covers a few tenets of this specific parenting philosophy (model positive values; learn to trust your children’s judgment; respect your children’s autonomy (mistakes and all); support your children in pursuing their interests).  Now, many of these ideas were very similar to my husband and my parenting philosophy, but the part I liked best was definitely the one about helping children develop intrinsic motivation and remain focused on the joys of creativity and work itself. What does this parenting book suggest? DON’T praise. Communicate the message that what one thinks about his or her work is more important than what other people think.

I still give a lot of praise to my son. It’s so difficult not to praise your child at the age of one, two, and three. I feel like it’s necessary to communicate interest, acceptance and love to the children of this age in an obvious way, and praising definitely does that. I feel like our children need us to delight in them to be able to build a strong, healthy sense of self.

But I think a lot about the no-praise or limited-praise parenting technique. There might be a moment when I feel that my son is grown enough and strong enough to be able to handle the lack of praise and capable of focusing on the world within him and drawing his strength from there. But, everything in due time. When it feels right.

  1. February 8, 2013 at 8:49 am

    I really seem to go along with every little thing that was written in “The Parent Talk: Greatness and Motivation
    pebblemeddle”. Many thanks for all of the tips.Regards-Deborah

  2. February 18, 2013 at 10:36 pm

    Glad it helps! Sorry I can’t keep up with the blog right now!

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