Help! My Child Won’t Practice: 22 Reasons why your Child isn’t practicing.
By: Glenda Gail Walsh , Director of Westminster Suzuki Strings
Just because your child doesn’t want to practice his instrument doesn’t mean he doesn’t want to play. It means you have practice problems and they need to be solved! To discover the biggest road blocks to successful practice for Suzuki students ages 3-10, read on!
- Too many activities. Does the following schedule sound familiar: soccer on Monday, dance on Tuesday, Wednesday is violin, Thursday is scouts, Friday is piano, Saturday is gymnastics and Sunday is reserved for family time? If this sounds like your family, this is probably the number one reason why your child doesn’t practice. When you allow your children to spread themselves too thin, how are they supposed to practice? With a schedule like this what family has time to squeeze it in? Less is more. Children need at least one day in between activities. This will allow students to master the skills they acquire from their lessons but it also allows them time to complete their most important task; being a child. You are the parent. You can say no when your child wants to add new activities. Some parents worry about raising their child to be well rounded because it looks good for college applications. What colleges would rather see is a student who understands what commitment really means. They want to see that your child has a deep understanding in a couple of subjects areas rather than mediocrity in many subjects. Many parents allow their children to bounce around from activity to activity. They try something new every semester with the hopes that they will find the perfect activity in which their child shows some amazing, untapped, genius talent. Searching for the easy activity that requires little effort for parent and child with the hope that everything will be super EASY! The reality is that your child needs to stick with something and struggle a bit to gain any real ability. This requires commitment.
- Lack of Motivation: A younger student requires more motivation from an outside source. Self-motivation comes with maturity. If you don’t play the Suzuki CD’s or go to concerts, observe other lessons, participate in groups and recitals the student doesn’t have the drive to move forward. You can ask your teacher for ideas to help motivate your child but it’s up to you to try them out. Your role as the parent is to create an environment that encourages a desire to learn in your child.
- Out of tune instrument: If the instrument is out of tune, the child may not play because it is confusing to the ear. They understand what the piece should sound like and even though they are using the same fingers as they did yesterday, the same notes aren’t coming out! This is very frustrating to students. They are likely to end the practice session only to find the same problem tomorrow! Your child could miss an entire week of practice. This problem is one of the easiest to fix. You will need a tuner and a tuning lesson from your teacher. Most students learn to tune their own instruments while working in Suzuki book 1 depending on age and your teacher’s preferences. Don’t feel shy about contacting your teacher if you are having major tuning problems during the week. You could even pop by your local music store to get some help.
- No rosin on the bow: If the bow is sliding all over the place and doesn’t grip the strings you only hear thin, whistle like sounds. It could mean that the bow needs more rosin. It may also be time to re-hair the bow. Students will not practice if their bow won’t make a sound. A few passes with a cake of rosin each time you practice should be plenty. Talk to your teacher about specifics.
- Your child doesn’t know what to practice: Young children can’t be expected to remember every little detail about their practice assignment. This is why parents should take notes and videos during the lesson! Whatever system you use, refer to it every time you practice. This personalized lesson plan will keep you on track. If the teacher’s directions aren’t clear, ask for clarification before you leave the lesson. In fact, most teachers will ask if you have any questions before the lesson ends. During the week, if you come across something in your notes that is isn’t clear, contact your teacher immediately! Don’t waste a week of practice when an issue could have been resolved by phone or email. Sometimes young teachers forget that parents need training too! They might assume that since you are an adult, you will fully understand their directions. They might be afraid of insulting your intelligence by being too specific. If you feel that your teacher isn’t being specific enough, you should communicate this with them. If this happens with your teacher, it doesn’t mean that they are a bad teacher. It just means they need more communication from you and what your needs are as a parent. Many teachers hold parent education classes and if your teacher doesn’t, please suggest that you are interested in this type of class.
- Your child may feel overwhelmed: At every lesson your student is given a practice assignment. The number of assignments given are based on what the child can reasonably complete in one week. If your teacher expects you to practice every day they will account for this in their assignment. Therefore, if your teacher expects daily practice they will give an assignment that can be completed IF you practice daily. If you don’t practice daily this assignment may look overwhelming. It’s not because your teacher is asking too much of your family, it’s because the teacher and parent are not on the same page regarding expectations. Teachers try to be sensitive and gage how much is enough. If a student can’t complete the practice assignment and the parent understands the teachers expectations, it’s usually because the parent doesn’t know how to manage practice time. You probably aren’t practicing exactly as the teacher asked or you have too many activities and daily practice is not possible. If you are following your teachers directions exactly but still can’t quite complete everything, then talk to your teacher. There is probably some miscommunication.
- Lack of communication and responsibility on the parents end. It is important to have open and honest communication with your teacher. Life happens. Friends move away, school isn’t going well a pet dies, divorce or siblings get ill. Whatever is going on, emotional events make it hard to concentrate and leave students unmotivated. It’s important to communicate in these times of crises with your teacher so that they can adjust the work load accordingly. Your teacher will be understanding and make accommodations. If something is going on you need to talk to your teacher about it. Details are not necessary, but unless your teacher knows that something is going on they won’t make adjustments for you.However... Unless it’s truly a rough time, please don’t make excuses for your child’s lack of practice. If you do this every week your child won’t learn responsibility or accountability. As a parent it is your responsibility to initiate and oversee practice until your child is mature enough to do this on their own. Do you really think it’s fair to place the blame on your child when it is your responsibility to oversee practice? “Johnny didn’t practice this week because he had ten baseball games.” When really what you should say is “I allow my child to participate in too many activities and I can’t be bothered to help Johnny practice.” If you want to teach your children responsibility, you have to be responsible yourself. Your child will never get to the point of practicing on her own, if she never learns to value practice. If you show that practice isn’t important and make excuses for why it wasn’t completed, your child will do the same. You are your child’s most important teacher and role model.
- There is no set practice routine: Practice is best when it’s an established part of the daily routine. Children need structure! When they know what’s next on their schedule they are far less likely to fight you about it. This goes for every task (dinner, bath time, bed time, etc.). This is because it’s predictable. Small children need this predictability to feel secure. When you upset this pattern of predictability you are guaranteed to be met with a temper tantrum. Always give a 5 minute warning before practice time begins. Pick a time of day that makes the most sense for your child’s age and needs as well as the family’s schedule. Then stick to it! Write it into your family schedule and make it a top priority. If you make it a priority, so will your child.
- Negativity makes practice harder: When parents and family members make negative remarks it’s hard to get motivated. If these comments happen during practice, the child will associate practice with negative feelings. Give as much positive feedback as possible and praise only when it is deserved. If the child feels self-conscious or judged during practice time of course they will choose not to practice! Practice should feel like a safe place, where mistakes are okay. Do not yell or scream at your child to practice. Nagging will only make the problem worse. If you make practice a negative thing or a chore your child won’t want to practice. Never use practice as a punishment (if you don’t practice then you can’t xyz).
- There is no set practice space: It’s easier to get started when there is a set practice location. The location should be free from distractions and contain all supplies (music stands, metronomes, music, practice notebook, instrument, etc.). Having a set practice place can serve as a safe, creative space for your child. Allowing your student to create this type of space sends the message that you value music and what they are doing. Most importantly, it shows your child that you value practice so much that it needs it’s own space! It can also serve as a physical reminder to practice each time you walk by.
- Your Child doesn’t know how to practice, what practice is or why it is important: Children certainly know what instant gratification is because that’s the world we live in today. Children don’t understand that they must work hard to be successful and that all things don’t come instantly. That’s the beauty of learning violin in the Suzuki method, where our primary goal is teaching children life skills. The teacher is responsible for teaching the parent how to practice. The parent is responsible for organizing practice and helping the child learn effective practice skills. What happens at the lesson is what should happen at home. Practice should be modeled after the lesson so refer to your lesson notes often. If you take detailed notes, you should have a pretty good lesson plan already laid out for you! It is important that as a parent, you understand good practice habits. As your child’s home teacher, you are setting up these practice habits for your child.Young students don’t understand the point of practice. Practice is what we do to make things sound better and to make things easier. If at the end of practice something doesn’t feel even a tad easier then when you started, than you didn’t really practice. Sometimes parents forget the child’s prospective: As the parent you give your children things or solve problems for them and you make it look so easy. You feed them which looks easy but they don’t see the hard work you do to provide for them. When they fall down and scrape a knee you clean them up. A hug and a kiss later they are off playing again…easy! When your child starts playing an instrument, there is nothing easy about it and you as a parent can’t make it magically easier. This can be very frustrating to a young child. They don’t understand that you can’t just make it easier for them. They have to learn that this is something they must do for themselves, and it takes a lot of work! The best way to teach this, is to allow your child to struggle. Don’t let them quit when the going gets tough. Let them watch you try something new and struggle a bit, this way they can see you in action! Sometimes parents try hard to make things too easy for their children. This is understandable but it’s a problem. By giving into your child’s every wish, and rescuing them when they don’t need to be saved you create a child that is self-centered, needy one that never learns to teach himself. If you set your child up to have this outlook on life, you will set them up for failure. Ed Sprunger talks about this topic in great detail in his book “Helping Parents Practice” I highly encourage parents to read this book!
- Lack of parent involvement. If left to their own devices small children are not likely to initiate practice on their own. It is the parents job to organize and initiate practice until the child knows how to practice and why they need to practice. The young child that practices alone often practices with no goal in mind and therefore little is accomplished. Students who practice alone early on in lessons develop bad habits simply because they are not aware that they are doing something incorrectly. The more involved a parent is the more involved the child will be. If you don’t stress importance on good practice habits neither will your child.b Sometimes parents think their child is ready to work alone. If you feel this is the case please discuss it with your teacher before you suddenly back out of the picture. The transition to independent practice is just that, a gradual transition.
- No results from “practice. There might be a time when a student begins to loose motivation because the teacher doesn’t assign anything new. As a parent you wonder why your child isn’t progressing. You may feel like you have hit a wall. If students don’t get something new on a regular basis it can cause motivation to wane. But you have to ask yourself, are you honestly doing everything your teacher asks? Exactly as they ask? Your teacher is probably waiting to see improvement on the previous assignment before giving something new. If you aren’t moving forward (not even a tiny bit) at each lesson you probably aren’t practicing correctly or meeting all of your teachers requirements. Check in with your teacher to make sure you fully understand the assignment. You will also want to find out what exactly the criteria is for moving on. Don’t forget to look at your group and individual lesson attendance.We review a lot during group allowing us to concentrate on new items during individual lessons. If you haven’t attended group or completed enough review, your teacher isn’t going to give you something new. If your lesson attendance is spotty your student is likely to forget new items. Which means when you finally get to your lesson (after a 2 week hiatus) you child has forgotten all the new stuff! Thus your teacher repeats the exact lesson given 2 weeks ago. If you then miss the following 2 lessons your teacher will end up teaching the same lesson they gave over a month ago! Regular attendance and practice is required to progress.
- Inconsistency. When is comes to practice spouses need to be on the same page. Both parents must agree with practice schedules and what is supposed to be practiced as well as the teacher’s directions. If there is a dispute contact your teacher immediately for clarification. When parents are not consistent the child becomes confused. It’ s hard to practice when you are confused. This is true for all areas of home life: What time is bed time? When is homework supposed to be done? Likewise, teachers and parents must be on same page. If the parent and teacher don’t have the same idea regarding practice details there will be confusion at home with the child. If there is confusion due to inconsistency nothing will be accomplished. This is why honest and open communication is so important in creating consistency.
- Perfectionism. If your child is a perfectionist, just getting them to start practice is a battle. If the child feels that they aren’t going to get Twinkle perfect anyhow, what is the point of even doing it? The perfectionist child is often afraid of making mistakes. They feel that if they make mistakes their parents will no longer love them and their teacher will think less of them. This of course is not true! Your child doesn’t understand this. You need to make it clear to your child that mistakes are okay and you will still love them. I often find that perfectionist children have a perfectionist parent. Sometimes the parent has unrealistic expectations or has raised the child to feel that mistakes are not acceptable. Mistakes happen, and they are always going to happen even with a ton of preparation. If you make a mistake, you simply do it again. I have learned that children who are unwilling to try new things or are afraid to make mistakes often come from homes with controlling parents or where there is little affection.
- Practice is a maturity thing. Until a child reaches age 10 they cannot be expected to initiate practice. This will come with time. If you think that as parent, you won’t have to remind your young child to practice in some fashion, think again. You are your child’s most important teacher, if you help them learn effective practice skills now, it will pay off later!
- You are your child’s biggest influence. If you don’t want to practice, your child won’t want to practice. If you make negative comments about listening to the CD. Your child will make the same comments. If you don’t respect your teacher, your child will not respect your teacher.If you don’t have good concert etiquette your child will be disruptive during concerts. If you constantly play with your cell phone during your child's lesson, your child will not pay attention to her lesson. If you greet others when you come into the studio your child will do the same. If you give positive comments to other students, your child will do the same. Your child is a mini you. Whatever you do, they will do. If you notice that they don’t want to practice examine the daily example you set for them. What are you modeling for them so that they get the idea that practice isn’t important? Is your child’s practice a priority for you? How do you show this?
- You are using too many words. Trying to explain how something is to be done is pointless to very young children. Leave the reasoning and critical thinking skills out of it until a later date! Young children learn best by imitation. It is best to place their hands in the correct position rather then talk to them about it. Give them mental images and think more tactile activities. Be visual. Above all as music is an aural thing, play recordings of the pieces your child is reviewing, learning and about to learn.
- Check your tone. During practice you have to keep your cool. If you get frustrated and it comes through in your voice or facial expressions your child will pick up on this and react to it. If you don’t think you are doing this record a video of a practice session and pay close attention to your body language and how you say things. Watch for your child’s reaction. Allow your teacher to view this recording and they will give you additional feedback.
- Being firm is not being mean. Too often parents feel that being firm is being mean or forceful. Being firm is not being strict. Being firm is love. You are firm with your child because you love them. You want them to learn and grow into a fine person. There are times when parenting needs to be parent centered for the good of the child. You are the parent and you are in control of what and when the child eats, when they go to bed, when they complete homework, when they play, when they practice. You teach them and provide appropriate discipline. This is not being mean this is called parenting. Without being firm children are left to do what they want to do, when they want to do it. They learn no discipline this way. However, when it comes to practice always let the child decide when to end practice (which is when they can no longer focus). Eventually, you will work your way up to longer practice sessions without destroying your child's motivation to learn.
- Play Games, all sorts! Teachers of young children play games with students not because they like to play games, but because this is how children learn. Copy the games your teacher uses. Create your own materials at home. Make-up your own games to suit your child’s needs and likes. If you are expecting your child to practice the same way you would as an adult, you are not going to have a very happy practice.
- Turn off the TV and other electronic devices. No explanation needed here!