Monday, August 31, 2015

Facing Challenges With Optimism

A new school year is under way. For some students this is their first experience with school or Let's Play Music, but for ALL students there will be many new situations, skills, and challenges to work through this year.

As a matter of fact, we're counting on it!  Learning to persist in the study and practice of music is a great challenge your family has accepted.  Good choice! Innumerable students have found that this choice helps them become stronger, more resilient people.

You won't be left alone. An important core value at Let's Play Music that we will instill throughout the year is: We face challenges with optimism.

Teaching A "Can-Do" Attitude
Most experts agree that a resilient mindset can be taught to kids. This is possible because being coping with adversity is dependent on what we think when faced with challenges.  Resilient kids react with a "can do" attitude because they think of themselves as capable and competent. They think they can influence their lives, so they take steps to solve their problems. Resilient kids think of mistakes as opportunities to grow; they bounce back and improve.

A resilient mindset can be taught, so let's give this gift to our kids. Music class is the perfect venue to find opportunities for teaching. Here's how we do it:

What are You Saying To Yourself?
Developing an optimistic attitude requires some awareness of the inner monologue and the self-talk in a child's mind.  When you see your child struggling, you might ask, "what are you saying to yourself, in your mind, right now?" He might not always have the words to answer, but your inquiry raises awareness. 

I Can Do Hard Things: 
We teach our students to declare, "I can do hard things." In class we will ask them to do MANY hard things, and we have 100% confidence that they can accomplish them. Help your child start to develop an inner monologue that says, "I might need a lot of time, I might need some help, I might need to practice it over and over...but I CAN DO this HARD THING!" Remind him that he is never expected to do hard things instantly.

Inch by Inch, It's a Cinch (Mile by Mile takes a while):
I like this phrase. I use it to remind students that because an entire song is like a "mile", it's going to take a while to learn it (not instantly!). To reduce frustration, let's tell ourselves, "I know I can do this if I take it one inch at a time. I think I was feeling frustrated just now because I was trying to go a mile all at once." One inch might be just a measure or two, or just one hand or one tricky bit.  Each day we master one little tricky part and soon we can play the song.

Practice Makes Easy:
The first time we practice new material, it's tough! Each day we practice it again, and it seems a bit easier. By lesson day, we can feel pretty confident. This may seem logical, but new students need reminders. Help them learn to say to themselves, "This is tough today, but I'm going to do it again tomorrow and I know it will be a little easier. I know I can get a little better each day." On that flip side, when a student has not practiced for a while and sits down, playing can seem a bit scary. He might be saying, "I stink! I'm a terrible musician!"  Suggest that he say to himself, "This is hard today because I haven't practiced for a long time. That doesn't mean I'm not a good musician. Practice makes easy. I can enjoy easy and fun playing again after I practice a few times."

If You Think You Can't, You're Right: 
What happens when you ask, "what are you saying to yourself?" and you hear "I can't do it! I'm never going to get it! I'm terrible at this!" Unfortunately, negative self-talk is just as powerful as the positive talk. Ask your child what he is saying in his mind. If it turns out to be one of these phrases, coach him to replace the negatives with positives. "I can't do it NOW...but I CAN do it if I work on it bit by bit."

What Makes Us Stronger: 
Every student will experience some set-backs.  Perhaps he won't be confident in class, or he may even make a mistake during pass-off day.  The resilient student can say positive things to himself, and grow from the experience. "I wish I hadn't made that mistake, but I'll bet next time I won't be as nervous- I'll be able to do better."  Or, "Well, at least I can see that I need a bit more practice before pass off day! Next time I'll prepare better." 

Be a Role Model: 
For some children, thinking this way and talking this way to themselves does not come automatically, but it CAN BE TAUGHT.  Does it come naturally to YOU?  Be aware of how you handle your own challenges in life, and listen for the self-talk going on in your mind.  Find a positive "can-do attitude" phrase and say it out loud for your children to hear.  This modeling will give an amazing boost to your child's ability to hear and correct his own self-talk!

What might you be saying to yourself in YOUR mind (that you could say out loud) when:

* You're cooking a new recipe/ driving to a new place/ learning a new song?
* You're preparing for a big dinner party/ event/ recital?
* You're working on an important piece of work/ project/ craft?

-Gina Weibel, M.S.
Let's Play Music Teacher

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