Imagine a world where we asked our kids to do something and they did it right away, happily and without reserve or complaint. As parents, teachers or other authority figures, there are days where one may wonder, is this even possible? Is it possible that kids can move forward and take care of responsibility independently because they want to at any age throughout childhood or teenage years? It is possible that it is worth it to the kids? How do we get challenge or responsibility to be worth it, to be intrinsically motivating enough to the individual to take care of self growth and responsibility without a nagging, constant eye keeping watch over the child?
This week, as I was supervising some of my college students practicing experience in a wonderful facility, with deliberate, compassionate, motivated staff, the children that the students were working with were doing well, attending, participating, getting along with peers, etc. As the Music Therapy students continued to work, the children were quietly given a reward that was totally unobtrusive to the session. After sessions were finished, the student asked me if she should be doing that also, giving that same reward. I was so happy someone had asked me this question, my reply was more than ready. I said, “No, you should never have to.”
I went on to explain to her, in all that she was doing, she was rewarding the children with something better, more sustainable and with easy access. As she began the session with her plan, but carefully watched each child’s nuance, need, interest, strength and worked them into the session, she kept her ultimate goals in mind but adapted individual preferences and discomforts to maintain not only structure and flow throughout, but she also gave value that could not be surpassed by any item she could hand to the child. She honored their individual identity while simultaneously linking the children’s interest, attention, and efforts to a united whole. In the music she chose, she kept their age, interests, and needs in mind. In the predictability of the session she made them feel safe, but added just enough surprise to keep their attention. In her awareness and slight alteration of dynamics as to what over-stimulated certain individuals and what kept others energized and motivated to attend, she kept the group’s interest. In the roles she facilitated in their individual participation abilities, no child was left behind, but all participated and were challenged according to their individual abilities, not a standardized benchmark. She invited challenging levels of participation from individuals, but did not demand it, and rewarded the kids with the prosody in her voice and the glimmer in the eye contact that she made with them that said, “That is wonderful!’, and lastly, the spoken words of acknowledgment and acceptance that they each needed. Each received immediate reward in the moment-to-moment experience of actively participating in a sensory, auditory, tactile, visual, unified experience, starting, pausing, stopping, and attending in unison. The wonderful thing about music is that, through the careful and deliberate use of it’s elements (rhythm, melody, harmony, and silence), one can orchestrate, order, or change development by slightly altering one element and possibly maintaining another, or by slightly altering more than one element so that changes made entrain or soothe differences but are yet undetectable enough to maintain predictability and a sense of safety.
When an individual is challenged enough to maintain attention, but not enough to produce stress and individually receive what they most need, there is reason not only to move closer but to want to come back and continue on. When what we receive is intrinsically motivating, there is no reason to distract with an outside reward. As Maya Angelo put it, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Antoinette Morrison MT-BC