Drum and Drummer

Gentle words of persuasion, or lobbing cymbals at their head – how do you get the best out of your kids?

National Day rehearsal
Pilots from the Qatar Air Force rehearse for National Day over Doha’s Corniche

Being mid-December I should probably be writing some sort of topical listicle about Seven Things to Do on Qatar National Day (#1: Don’t drive anywhere unless your car is well and truly decal’d to the hilt…), getting ready for next week with Your Festive Camel Meat Questions Answered, or wondering if it’s too late to ask Santa for a pet lion.

But before we can kick off our sunny desert Christmas (or ‘Thursday’, as it’s called here), there’s a busy end to a busy term, one that’s brought the issue how to get the best out of our kids to the fore.

Patriotic decals
A National Day tradition: patriotic decals

With Kid A minutes away from her 11th birthday, we’re at a crossroads. She’s still young enough to be into unicorns and Harry Potter, but old enough to get stroppy at our refusal to let her get her ears pierced or buy her a mobile.

And, like Skynet, she’s gradually become self-aware and woken up to the fact that opinions other than her parents’ are available.

This term, for example, Kid A has blossomed under the influence of two teachers: her form teacher who has been pushing her hard in the classroom, and a music teacher who directed the pantomime she had a leading role in.

Carrot and Stick

What’s been fascinating is watching different tactics produce similar results (namely an improved performance and sense of personal accomplishment).

In the classroom, it’s been thanks to a healthy dose of competition, while on stage there’s been the internal pressure of not wanting to let others down or look foolish herself.

Other kids who might respond best to gentle words of encouragement, or to having a metaphorical mirror held up to their abilities. For others (cough Amnesiac cough) who are easily distracted, and whose powers of concentration could use a boost, constant monitoring might be necessary.

QAF parachutists
QAF parachutists prepare for their National Day display

All of which introspection is only possible because both the kids are really enjoying school at the moment. If they weren’t, our situation as expats would, I think, be very different.

If you have a young family, the availability of a quality school place is probably the key factor in deciding whether to move to a new house across town, let alone move to a new country altogether.

(I suspect it’s also true that, for many expat parents, being able to offer your kids better education opportunities is less of a handy bonus of your move, and more a reason for the move in the first place.)

As adults you can, for the most part, put up with the many and varied challenges of relocating because you have enough life experience to put things into context. But is it fair to expect your kids to put up with the same? I don’t think so.

Getting the best out of your kids is hard enough if they’re enjoying school, let alone if they’re struggling.

“Not my tempo. Again…”

Ajyal Youth Film Festival
The second edition of the Ajyal Youth Film Festival took place in early December

The question of methods v. results was on my mind when I battled the increasingly choked road to Katara on a visit to the fantastic Ajyal Youth Film Festival earlier this month to see Whiplash.

Easily one of the year’s best films (a list still topped by Boyhood, it’s the story of drum student Andrew (Miles Teller) and his tutor Fletcher (JK Simmons), whose says his skill is in “pushing people beyond what’s expected of them”.

The fact that he does so by any means necessary, including verbal and physical abuse makes Whiplash as tense as any thriller.

Whiplash (2014)
L-R: Miles Teller and odds-on Oscar favourite JK Simmons go head-to-head in Whiplash

Fletcher is a profanity-spewing, cymbal-chucking tyrant who thinks that sugar coating a situation is worse than useless. He believes that “there are no two words more harmful in the English language than ‘good job’.”

In an age of mollycoddling kids and prizes-for-everyone, it’s a harsh but refreshing point of view. Unfortunately, the zeal with which he sets about proving his point is watch-through-your-fingers terrifying.

The film basically wonders (as I’m sure we all have at some point) what it would be like if Full Metal Jacket‘s Gunnery Sergeant Hartman was in charge of a jazz orchestra, and goes on to pose some very uncomfortable questions about how-far-is-too-far in the pursuit of perfection, and at what point (if any) a concerned parent should intervene.

I hope I don’t ever need to go Fletcher-level ballistic in order to help our two be their best. Like the ancient proverb says: “Positive reinforcement has got to be better than being hit in the face with a cymbal, surely?”

Any better tips gratefully received…


3 thoughts on “Drum and Drummer

  1. Roy B December 16, 2014 / 7:35 pm

    Im one post behind in responses , but your new post prompted a reply. As a somebody who went to the university of hard knocks and hard work ( with lots of luck thrown in) I know the value of i education and instilling these values in my kids .
    My initial pride in end of year reports for my kid A and B ( both high and 5 ) was dampened on reviewing coursework books , seems the school are setting such low expectations that most children are “excelling “

    • littlecity December 17, 2014 / 1:56 pm

      It’s certainly a challenge; talking to the teachers has given us a far better sense of how ours are doing vs both their peers in the class and for their age group more broadly.

      But it isn’t easy finding the balance of how hard to push… Good luck, though, and thanks for stopping by!

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