Raising Needham: Practice Makes Perfect

Getting kids to practice anything isn’t an easy job but it’s the hallmark of any accomplishment.

I love driving around town this time of year. I love seeing kids of all ages outside enjoying their youth, having fun and practicing their sport. My kids have noticed it, too. We drive by many open fields and schools on the way home from my youngest child’s school, and that gives me ample time to chat about the benefits of practice. The key word being chat, not lecture.

“What are those kids doing, Mom?” asks my son.

I answer with one short sentence and let it stick for a moment. “They are practicing their skills.”

I can almost see the wheels turning in his mind as he pictures himself “playing” soccer with his dad not even realizing that he too is practicing.

My daughter quickly chimes in with, “Just like I practice piano every day so I can perform at All School Meeting someday.”

Yes! It all seems too easy, so I add just one more little encouraging statement. “Remember when we watched the Olympics this summer and also when you saw the little girl perform classical piano on TV? Well, sweet children, they all practiced, practiced and practiced a little bit more.” I say.

OK, I think I made my point. I let it go, for now.

So many parents, including me, struggle with getting their children to practice, but maybe we should practice, too—practice being patient. My son does not like soccer practice even though they make it super fun. But he loves the actual game. My daughter is only OK about piano practice, but ask her to play a song and she lights up like the sun. They both know full well that in order to be good at soccer and piano you must practice, but they still complain.

So, what do we do to make practice fun?

I know from experience that the only reason I quit piano was because it was not fun—at all! Our piano was in the basement, and my teacher was about as thrilled to teach me as I am cleaning the toilets. When we got our piano we put it in the living room, I stay in the room during my daughter’s lesson so I can help with theory homework, and we make practice fun with stickers, mini recitals and videos to send to family. We talk about any resistance to practice, and I am honest about why I quit piano and my extreme regrets.

With my son's resistance to soccer practice, we took a more subtle approach because he doesn’t like to be nagged at all. Every time he scored a goal, after the high-fives, we whispered, “That’s because you practiced.” We got a huge smile and a reassuring look that we were getting our message across.   

Then I thought about all the articles I have read about kids modeling their parents and wondered if I could get that to work for this scenario. What could I practice so my kids could see that even adults need to practice what they want to perfect? I started with cooking. After apple picking one weekend, I attempted my first apple pie and was super honest about my trepidation. The kids inhaled it and proclaimed it a victory. Hmm, maybe this wouldn’t work.

I then showed them that the pie was in fact too runny and that I needed to practice to get it just right. We went to the cookbooks (oh, who am I kidding, we went online) and found another recipe for me to try that included some flour.

The second attempt was much better, and I asked my kids if they thought my practice had paid off. Well, of course they said yes, but my point was well taken.

I did the same with my writing, walking with a boot cast (don’t ask), reading with my new glasses and, dare I say it, parenting. Practice is as much a part of everyone’s life as the fun and accomplishment that comes along with it. My final words to my kids, as Nike would say: “Just do it.”


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