New student says ‘no’

Elizabeth Friedman said: Aug 8, 2011
Elizabeth Friedman
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
49 posts

Hello all,
I just started a new four-year-old last week, almost 5. She said ‘no’ throughout her entire first lesson… I’ve dealt with things like this before, so quickly stopped asking her to do things and just forged ahead with games without asking. She did have fun when she decided to cooperate. I also put stickers under her feet (a suggestion I found elsewhere in this forum) so that she could win them if she didn’t step off of them… she got to keep one of them, and the other is waiting for her next week. And, I played the chip game—she won chips if she did what I asked and lost them if she said no, ultimately winning a sticker. I’m going to be armed with gummy bears for her next lesson—another suggestion from this forum—so that the gummy bears will jump into a container for her to take home after the lesson, and jump out of it if she misbehaves.

The reason I’m posting is because she’s acting like a 2-year-old and exhibits classic signs of being spoiled—mom has a nervous laugh when she says no to reasonable requests (like “can you make your thumb stand up?”), like mom doesn’t quite know what to do. Because it seems the child thinks she’s being cute when she says no, I feel like I need to have a talk with her about how big girls behave… especially since she will be entering kindergarten in the fall.

However, I don’t want to take away this child’s sense of autonomy, and want to make sure she understands that she can still say no to an adult if, for instance, she feels her safety is threatened. (I.e., she can still say no if a stranger asks her to get into a car, etc.)

Does anyone have a good way to phrase this upcoming little chat?

Rachel Schott said: Aug 8, 2011
Rachel SchottViolin
Harrogate, TN
127 posts

Please remember how intimidating it can be to be taught one-on-one. Last week’s lesson may very well have been her very first EVER experience in having a teacher’s complete attention. She is right to have no idea how to handle this situation. (Think back to your first private lesson as a freshman in college!)

My suggestion for mom to say authoritatively before the lesson “I expect you to do the things Ms.Elizabeth asks you to do” and for you to say, “I expect you to follow my directions.” Have her observe other little girls, too. Triple whammy! No long explanations needed.

Of course the games are a hoot but careful that each lesson doesn’t become a negotiation or manipulation. I think it’s perfectly reasonable for her to do as you ask, period, and of course be rewarded for her cooperation.

Good job, teach!

Elizabeth Friedman said: Aug 8, 2011
Elizabeth Friedman
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
49 posts

Thanks, Rachel! I think you’re right, and I like your approach. I will definitely give this a try!

Betty Douglas said: Aug 8, 2011
 16 posts

Hello! I really like that you stopped asking “can” and “will” because that’s not what you want- you don’t want to give her a choice, but you are, so both you and she are becoming frustrated. Some ideas: Try writing symbols on cards for different activities and have her draw them out of a hat/bucket/bag- that way she has choices, but just as to the order of what you want to do. You could try a “mirror” game (she has to mirror you)- be sure to put in some silly stuff. Ask how quickly she can do something- kids love to race- “how quickly can you move your thumb here? Count to 3 and go!” Do it wrong sometimes and get her to fix you- you can earn chips, too! Good luck!

Betty Douglas, flute teacher

Patricia said: Aug 8, 2011
 
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Martinsville, NJ
58 posts

I had a student a few years ago come in and say no at everything too. It can be so frustrating. I like everything Rachel & Betty said. I used the chips in a jar, coloring a picture, I have a wire frame that we move beads from 1 side to the other… sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. I finally decided with this 1 student—she didn’t say no when there was another student in the room—only when it was her mother and me… so I gave her a semi private lesson with another students twice a week (in addition to the weekly group). The mother changed too when she saw the other students mother’s behavior at lessons. Once the girl understood that she would progress and learn to play songs—she stopped saying No… and started playing well. I kept her with Melanie for a full school year… and then they each went into a private lesson the following school year.
Hopefully your student will grow out of it and become a good violinist, musician and person with a wonderful heart. Good Luck.

Brenda Lee Villard said: Aug 9, 2011
 
Suzuki Association Member
Cello
Edina, MN
27 posts

For some kids, “No” can mean “I can’t” and there is a fear of failure. For kids who say no a lot, I keep a couple things in mind.
1.) Have I broken the task down enough so that the child will experience success.
2.) Is there a choice that I can give the kid…do you want to make bow bunnies, or should we do ski jumps? I make up spinner cards that have all the tasks labeled on the card and my little ones love to spin them and do what the card says. If the child is particularly strong willed about saying “no”, I will ask them to pick 4 items for the lesson—or 5 or 6—-and when the items are done, the lesson is done. I have found that some kids are truly concerned about what is expected of them and how long it is going to take. Those types of students are more rare, but I have had them and they usually out grow it.
3.) Finally—for some kids—it is simply not an option to ask, “Can you…” or “Will you….” I had one like that recently and even the mom said the her son did better when TOLD what to do rather than being ASKED.

The main thing is to not ever get into negotiating with a child. If there is a reluctance and the child won’t budge—and switching tactics doesn’t help—I end the lesson quickly, saying, “I need you to bow. Your lesson is done today.” and spend the rest of the time teaching the parent. In 25+ years of teaching, it has worked every single time and the following week we have an awesome lesson!

I’m the gummy bear person and it works miracles in my studio. I’ve used them for many years and it doesn’t matter what age, most kids will do anything for gummy bears—particularly if there is a chance that the bear may end up in my dixie cup, rather than theirs. Even my two year olds who take 5 minute lessons will come, sit down, keep feet still, and do a few games with me if there are 5 bears lined up on the music stand ready to jump into their dixie cup at the first sign of success. And of course I make a HUGE deal about how the kid just got all my bears and next week I’m going to have to try something harder so I can win the bears next time. They love it and joke back saying, “NO you can’t!” or “I bet I can win!”

Just a side note, one of my 2 year olds was having a “no” day and after checking with him twice to see if he really wasn’t going to cooperate anymore, I told him his lesson was done. As he bowed and handed his cello to his mom, he asked me for his gummy bears (all 3 of them) and I said, “Oh, I wish I could, but you didn’t finish your lesson today, so the bears will have to stay with me. Maybe next week!!!” He looked at me and then up at his mom. When she, too, explained to him “no bears”, he stomped his foot and said, “Oh, DAMN IT!!” It was all I could do to not laugh. I had to turn around and not look at the mom as she walked him out the door. He’s now 5 and doing a full 30 minute lesson every week—and no more swear words!

Elizabeth Friedman said: Aug 9, 2011
Elizabeth Friedman
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
49 posts

Thanks for this! For several years, I hadn’t seen any children who had so much trouble following directions, and now I’ve got two four-year-olds who say no for different reasons. One is a perfectionist (you replied to the post about her, hence the gummy bears!), and she will completely shut down when she is stressed about doing something. The other, I think, is just inexperienced at following directions and thinks she’s being cute.

The one this conversation strand is about hasn’t had her second lesson yet, so I’ll have to let you know how that goes! :) I think #3 applies to her. But the other one, the perfectionist, just had a much better lesson yesterday—her second lesson with gummy bears. She did most of what I asked her to do and even got over a couple of hurdles and started to feel confident bowing on her shoulder. And, she even sang “Up Like a Rocket” and the Rest Position song quite loudly and confidently! I didn’t try to have her play her violin this week, since that is the most stress-inducing for her, but I’m going to try it again next week. I’m excited for group lessons to start up again in the fall so that she can have that camaraderie. I’m also going to be ready to end her lesson early next week and teach her mom if we build up to the point of bowing on the violin and she won’t do it.

I LOVE the story about the 2-year-old with his gummy bears!!

Patricia said: Aug 10, 2011
 
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Martinsville, NJ
58 posts

My students don’t miss group over the summer—because we have several summer play-parties scheduled…. every 2 weeks—we have ice cream playdown; cook-out Recital on back deck, Theory Games Poolside, Treasure Hunt for Violins, Musical Carnival, Next week is the last Casual Recital with Pinata. Sometimes, my teenage students will come help to get community service hours…. I enlist them alot since all the HS around here make CS mandatory to graduate…. they love doing their hours with their violin in their hands. I don’t charge for these events—but my students all pay a Program Fee for the year that covers everything we do.

Elizabeth Friedman said: Aug 12, 2011
Elizabeth Friedman
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
49 posts

Just thought you’d like to know that my 4-year-old who says no because she thinks it’s cute had a good lesson yesterday. At the beginning of her lesson, I said “I need you to put your feet on red feet” (that’s rest position on her foot chart) and she said no, so I held her hands and had her look into my eyes, and I said, “Are you a big girl or a little girl?” To which she, of course, responded, “I’m a big girl.” I said, “Well, that’s great, because I can only teach big girls. Big girls can follow directions, and they don’t always say no.” And then I told her that I would give her one Smartie (they’re like M&M’s) every time she followed directions, but I would take 2 away every time she said no. No more no’s for the whole lesson, and we both had a great time! It will be interesting if this teaches her that following directions can mean she’ll have more fun. Thanks to everyone for your suggestions!

Barb said: Aug 12, 2011
Barb Ennis
Suzuki Association Member
Cello
678 posts

Patrizia, I wonder if you meant to put your reply in another thread. Anyway, sounds like you’ve got one FUN studio! Why don’t you start a new thread and tell us what all these events entail?

Thanks for sharing your follow up, too, Elizabeth!

Barb
Music Teachers Helper—for individual teachers
Studio Helper—for entire music studios or schools

You must log in to post comments.

A note about the discussion forum: Public discussion forum posts are viewable by anyone. Anyone can read the forums, but you must create an account with your email address to post. Private forums are viewable by anyone that is a part of that private forum's group. Discussion forum posts are the opinion of the poster and do not constitute endorsement by or official position of the Suzuki Association of the Americas, Inc.

Please do not use the discussion forums to advertise products or services