Being a parent is a journey of trial and error. We all want to do the best for our kids, but raising them can be one big learning curve. Recently, my oldest son taught me another lesson in fatherhood.

We’re new to the neighborhood, and he’s been having a bit of trouble getting out and making new friends. At age 11, I know that can be difficult. The other kids in our neighborhood love to play basketball, but Caleb has studied music all of his life, not sports. I could tell he felt a little isolated from the other kids but assumed he would figure it out.


He recently asked me to go to the basketball court with him to shoot some hoops and get better at the game. Now, I don’t know anything about basketball. I couldn’t give him any practical tips, so what kind of help could I be? I told him I was going for a bike ride instead and sent him on his way. Upon my return, I asked him how the basketball went. That’s when he told me he hadn’t gone to play at all.

At that moment, I realized that my son hadn’t been asking for my technical pointers about how to make baskets— he was requesting my presence and support. Maybe he’d felt afraid of being embarrassed in front of the other kids, or maybe he wanted someone else to learn alongside him. If I’d gone with him, I might have been able to do nothing more than sit on the bench and say, “Good job, son!” But I realized just how far that would’ve gone in motivating him to practice.

Maybe you’ve experienced something similar with your child’s music lessons. If you’re not a musician, you might feel that you can’t be much help when they’re struggling with a new piece of music. And like I did with my son, you probably assume they’ll figure it out on their own.

In education, there’s something called the student-teacher-parent triangle. The student’s job is to commit to their learning, the teacher’s job is to provide guidance and engaging lessons to the student, and the parent’s job is to provide support. If you take away any of the three sides, the triangle falls apart. At MnSOM, we always do our best to uphold our side of the triangle, but we need your help, too.

That doesn’t mean you need to learn how to play an instrument. In fact, the students who do the best in our program aren’t necessarily the ones who have musical parents — they’re the ones who have the most involved parents.

Be willing to lead your child, and start by listening to them practice. I don’t mean listening from the other room while you make dinner (I’m guilty of that one, too), but physically sitting down and listening to them play. If a student hesitates to practice, it’s often because they’re afraid. Maybe they think they won’t be able to get something right; maybe they’re embarrassed to have their family hear them make mistakes. Just being there to offer encouragement and let them know that you’re proud of them, however, they do, creates a safe and nurturing environment for them to learn.

We also encourage parents to attend their child’s music lessons. (If you have COVID-19 concerns, we will be glad to have you Zoom in from the comfort of your car.) This will give you a better idea of what your child is learning every week and an opportunity to show them that you’re invested in their education.

If you have questions about how to support your child through their music lessons, we’ll be happy to provide additional guidance. (In fact, we’ve included some on Page 3!) But it’s important to remember that kids and adults alike can struggle to communicate exactly what they need. When one of our children asks for our assistance, what they might really need is not our expertise but our love and support.

I’ve learned my lesson and will be shooting hoops with my son soon.

–Eric Nehring