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Q. My 10-year old son takes trumpet lessons; my 13-year old daughter plays flute. Sometimes they "blank out" at recitals and forget the notes. Why do I get so embarrassed?

A. Let’s start with the second part of your question. Embarrassment can be defined as an acute reaction to the perception that we have not met expectations. What are your expectations for your children in relation to studying music? Is your goal to stimulate brain function, to provide them with a wide range of learning opportunities, and to enrich their lives? Or are they taking lessons and playing in recitals because of your veiled need to feel okay about yourself as a parent? Are you trying to make up something you missed in your childhood? Do you expect your child to performperfectly? If so, you may be creating a stressful situation for your child, as well as yourself. As to the first part of your question, emotional stress has been found to temporarily interfere with receptors in brain synapses. This can help to explain why a child can memorize a piece of music (or a poem), and under the stress of the performance, go blank. Confidence and the ability to recall memorization may go hand-in-hand. If you are very anxious about their performance, they will likely pick this up and internalize your expectations as stress.

Of course, other factors influence the quality of one’s performance: brain lead, level of extroversion, amount of practice, and a balanced high-level-wellness lifestyle to name just a few.

You may want to explore personal growth aspects in your own life, and learn to reward effort as well as outcome, your own as well as that of your children. In an environment where excellence is encouraged, but where mistakes are viewed as opportunities for learning, embarrassment becomes less of an automatic reaction.

Finally, I believe that in most cases, a continued sense of embarrassment is a choice and I choose to avoid going there....

 

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