Good News

If Parents Were Approached and Children Were Labeled by Their Abilities, Would Learning Be Easier?



My off-the-cuff “Hip Hip Hooray” motif this week was an eye-opener for me. The three-year-old autistic client’s mother told me that never before had they gotten him to wave his hands in the air like that. That was not my intention, nor was it a need of which I was aware. I was simply keeping the little guy motivated and excited about what he was doing. As I repeated this “Hip Hip Hooray” motif after each spongy letter he pushed back into its spot in the puzzle, the initially poor fine motor skills quickened to get the letter back in so much that I had trouble fitting in all the words to the little tune to keep up with his pace.

Once again,  when it was time to clean up (a non-preferred task), as I sang “Hip Hip Hooray” after each item, the pace quickened. The little boy went up to the mirror with a great big smile and continued to praise himself until he left. When it comes to stickers and stars, they cannot compare or come anywhere close to intrinsic reward, nor do the effects remain like intrinsic reward (pride in one’s work).

The next day, I thought I would reuse this free light-weight motivator with a four-year-old who suddenly showed an interest in writing letters (reportedly a boy who doesn’t ever engage in this sort of activity and hates coloring). After each letter that was written, another “Hip Hip Hooray” motif was sung. This led to forty straight minutes of the game with a little boy who initially started with fine motor skills as a need.

Earlier in the week, when I was thinking of my topic for this blog, I remembered very early in my career a lesson I had learned quite unintentionally. There was a little boy with whom I worked who displayed developmental delays due to socioeconomic conditions. The boy was the last of four, all of which were in the same school for the same reasons. When an individual in this family was brought up in conversation, it was rare that someone was being praised. I was new and only worked with the youngest boy. His behaviors challenged me greatly from the start. By an act of pure will, I was bound and determined to find something positive in order to counteract the frustration I was feeling. Eventually, this boy became on of my most beloved clients whom I discovered had a wonderful sense of humor. After I had finally turned my own eyesight on and could see this, I truly enjoyed working with this little guy. His mother, who had never even been witnessed smiling and had barely ever spoken a word or shared anything at all with this school throughout the enrollment of her four children, seemed to also only see the negative with the little guy. When she came in, I came up to her and told her what a great little guy he was and how humorous he could be. There was no intention behind these comments at the time other then a release of my own joy from the work with this boy. What followed was the lesson that I retained: she smiled and looked at her own son with new eyes. This was visible for the rest of his stay at the school.

“What if” (a phrase we should never outgrow) we came to parents and not only saw, but also presented to them their child’s best traits? Would learning be easier? Would frustration levels be erased? Would our working relationship with parent and child be something to look forward to, something delightful? Would the family’s home life be happier? Sometimes “what if” sounds childlike, new, or different: isn’t it at the very least worth consideration?

Antoinette Morrison MT-BC





  • Leah Davies

    I love this article. Your enthusiastic ways of relating with the children you teach is a wonderful example for us all.

    I agree that when parents hear positive comments concerning their child’s strengths, they feel encouraged, and can often become less negative.

    For 11 complimentary parenting handouts and a video on parenting, click below:


    Thank you for sharing this. We all need reminders to look for the positive in the children we teach and the children in our own families. We often get side tracked by educational expectations and forget there’s a child developing in there. I found a comment recently that put this into perspective for me. Unfortunately I don’t remember the author’s name. She said,”The way we talk to children becomes their inner voice.” Your commentary reaffirms this.

    • Antoinette

      I have read similar quotes and agree. There is such a pressure to keep it ” academic” . There are enthusiastic teachers who are loosing their enthusiasm due to pressure. I do not disagree with academic, however developments occurs by building on what is already there. We have to remember this. This makesw the work easier and takes away frustration, which moves progress faster.

  • Aurelia Jones

    I grew up with a lot of criticism from my father who actually meant well and after I was married for many years told me he regretted being too hard on me. My mom told me I could be anything I wanted to be (she was right – I have done many things). But, it was my husband who has worked for 33 years feeding me with the positive input I so desperately needed growing up. I’m sure my self-esteem would have developed much quicker had I gotten the positive input when I was a child. Thank goodness for those who provide children with the positives!

    • Antoinette

      Thank you for sharing. I think there are many well meaning people who try to “help” us that way. All problems need to be taken care of, not avoided or ignored, but sometimes there are just better ways than others of doing so.

  • Nathaniel McLaughlan

    I think this is related to an important current issue in education, parenting, and valuing humanity in general. If we spent more time affirming a child’s abilities, rather than focusing so much on “fixing” or avoiding their disabilities, I think that positive energy would carry them much further. As a culture and society, we are so hung up on categorizing things based on what is “wrong” with them. In reality, there’s nothing wrong with an autistic child, there is simply something different from the norm. More “normal” parents might not know intuitively how best to nurture them because of their differences, but I think bringing out their positive traits and capacities, and praising them to kingdom come, is a fantastic way to shedding light on a helpful procedure. Music therapy is one of the best tools at our disposal for administering this “positive affirmation medicine.” Thank you for the work you do 🙂

    • Antoinette

      I truly agree, not only autistic children, but all of them in general. I really think everyone would be doing a better job because they would see and feel differently. Thank you for you comments!

  • Amanda Bryans

    I love this article and all the thoughtful responses. I too have worked with parents in poverty, struggling every day, who never hear authentic observations about their children’s abilities. I have found that just offering such observations can transform a parent-child relationship. Imagine the effect of a proud parent who recognizes their child’s unique and great attributes on that child’s “outcomes”. The caution is, it cannot be empty, meaningless, fake praise, but should be truly what you have seen about a child that amazes you. If you find a child whose amazing you can’t find, look harder. They all have it.

  • Henny Kupferstein

    “What if” more music therapists can help the client explore their ability at playing an instrument through sight reading, proving to the client and then their loved ones on their abilities?

  • tom gerni

    “What if” = the possibilities are absolutely endless. It allows kids and caregivers alike to ‘imagine’ or bring ito present focus a longing, a loss, a healing, a presence in a relationship either in the moment or working it out at a later time.
    It is also a great title for a song – I’m sure it has been done, but I will work in it today in preparing for my summer program.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Social Media Auto Publish Powered By :