herald

Saturday 3 December 2016

Mum's the Word: Are you giving your kid the chance to make mistakes?

Childhood is a chance to give things a go and figure out what you're good at

Trying new things is all part of growing up
Trying new things is all part of growing up

My nine-year-old auditioned for a singing part in his school concert and it didn't quite go to plan. Apparently he started out too high and ended up, I imagine, in some sort of falsetto zone trying to squeeze out the notes.

He put himself forward for the audition without telling me.

I felt he wouldn't land the lead role, but was so proud he put himself out there, believing he might have a chance. Despite one kid laughing at him as he auditioned he soldiered on unperturbed.

The concert is the highlight of the school calendar, running over three nights, with each class putting on their own mini musical.

Last year the principal revealed that people are astonished he can willingly get almost 300 boys, aged from seven to 13, into fancy dress and make-up to sing and dance.

It's even more impressive when you consider a large amount of the boys will be dressed up as girls! (Admittedly, you can always spot a few kids who are a little nervous or self-conscious on the stage, but taking part is a big deal and every single kid wants to put their best foot forward.)

Hundreds of costumes have to be made, and a group of mums, myself included, do all the make-up each night. It's a massive operation, and a great way for parents to get involved. If you've never helped out at your kid's school you may be surprised at how rewarding it is. You'll walk away feeling good about yourself and your child will feel good about your interest in them.

A few boys who play musical instruments also get the chance to perform in between the class acts, with parents treated to guitar, saxophone and piano recitals this year.

You can hear a pin drop as these youngsters impress with their talent and I can only imagine the pride parents must feel as they watch their child play. I suspect it must be satisfying too to realise all that money on music lessons has been well invested.

The sixth class boys, who will shortly leave the school, collaborate as one group in a much longer performance, which is often the highlight of the night. With maturity on their side, and greater confidence, they seem to treat their show as a bonding experience before they scatter to different secondary schools.

It's emotional for parents to watch these kids closing a seminal chapter of their lives, while allowing many talented kids to shine.

When the roles were announced a few weeks ago in my son's room, there were no surprises. The lead characters are easily the best singers in the class, and put in a wonderful performance each night.

My son, like most of the class, was in the chorus, and also had a simple walk-on role, which he was delighted with. He wasn't in the least bit upset that he didn't land a solo part, demonstrating the kind of pragmatism I could only have dreamed of at his age.

"I know I'm not the best singer in my class," he admitted, when questioned further, "but I would have enjoyed a singing part."

Despite his mature reaction to not getting picked his biggest lament was that he didn't get a chance to try something new. Like many kids he's quite competitive, playing all kinds of sports, and he saw this concert as an opportunity to master something new.

talents

Heartened both by his lack of inhibition and common sense I explained to him that everyone has different talents and that no one can be good at everything.

Last week, at the Community Games, he came first in his 200-metre race, winning by quite a distance. Along with a shiny trophy he also walked away with a real sense of pride in his achievement.

He's always telling me about kids who are faster than him at school, so he entered the race with ambition, but no real expectation of winning.

My son's story is mirrored in most Irish family homes. Every kid that has ever undertaken a new hobby, joined a team or signed up to try a new sport will have had success and failure.

Without ever trying to be a Super Parent we can ensure things like auditions and races present our kids with key opportunities - the chance to participate, to push themselves and to experience both failure and success.

In these moments we, as parents, can learn something too: the importance of encouraging our kids to step outside their comfort zones. As a wise Winston Churchill once said: "Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts."

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