4 year old with rapid emotional changes

Yann-Bor Wen said: Apr 1, 2012
Yann-Bor WenViolin, Viola
Houston, TX
4 posts

Hi, I have a 4 year old who has very rapid and drastic changes of emotion. She will be smiling and happy one second, and mad/angry/frustrated/tired the next. The truth is, I am not sure what emotion she has, but it happens at least once per lesson and lots of times during groups. She will all of a sudden be very quiet and just sit or stand there, staring at the ground like she is mad. When I ask her what’s wrong, she doesn’t reply. I ask her if she’s tired and she shakes her head no. I even ask if she wants to take a break and she refuses. If I try to do anything that doesn’t fit to her liking, she will get angry and start crying. At first, I thought she must be getting tired, so I tried changing up the activities to clapping, playing a drum, singing, or just sitting and listening to me play. However, today, she refused to even have me play for her! I discovered that once she has hit that point during lesson, it is almost impossible to recover from it. I can’t get anything out of her without an emotional outburst. Neither can her mom, who tells me that at school, her teachers say she has the same problem.

She has been taking lessons for about two and a half months now, and other than stated above, has no problems with behavior or following directions. She is an exceptionally bright student when it comes to note-reading and memorization, and can recite back to me musical terms most of my six and seven year old beginners can’t. Her mom says they practice every day, but she gets tired easily and refuses to do more once she is tired. It is getting to the point where I feel like she cannot progress because once she decides she is not happy anymore, the lesson is no longer effective.

Any suggestions are helpful. Thanks!

Elizabeth Rothenbusch said: Apr 1, 2012
 Violin, Piano, Viola
Cleveland, OH
6 posts

Don’t let it get you down! She’s probably bipolar. I had a girl like her too. The parents eventually made her quit because she wasn’t practicing at home (she was 6 yrs old) you win some, you lose some. That’s just the way it is— enjoy the fun students and don’t let the crummy ones wear you out!

Charliah Best said: Apr 2, 2012
Charliah Best
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Suzuki Early Childhood Education, Guitar, Piano, Viola
Hamden, CT
3 posts

Hi there, I have a couple suggestions:
1. Read “Your Four Year Old” by Ilg and Ames. It’s a great and easy read and just reassures you that, well, sometimes, 4 year olds will just be 4 year olds! There is no rhyme or reason to their actions at such a young age, sometimes.
2. I expect Mom isn’t telling you everything. From my experience, most little ones act out like this when their routine has changed. I’m suspecting some part of your student’s structure and routine has been disrupted. (ie. new baby coming, new school, a friend moved away, etc…) Be a bit more inquisitive and ask the mom if anything (or anyone) has changed in her life recently.

Unless the child has been taken to a psychologist and has been reviewed for bi-polar disorder, we can’t really diagnose without significant proof. So, my last suggestion is to just be patient and continue to show affection and concern, but don’t push too much after asking once. Also, try to communicate a better behavioral reaction with her the next time she does act out with extreme emotions, i.e.. “As your teacher, I don’t understand what is wrong if you just stop playing and look at the floor. Maybe, you can count to 10… get a drink of water… sit and have a rest… say the words purple dinosaur… (whatever!) when you feel frustrated/nervous/angry. I feel very sad when you are sad, so let’s try our best not to get frustrated while playing violin.”

Hope this helps and good luck!

Kelly Williamson said: Apr 2, 2012
Kelly WilliamsonTeacher Trainer
Suzuki Association Member
Flute, Suzuki Early Childhood Education
Cambridge, ON
248 posts

She’s four. I wouldn’t be too quick to dismiss her potential to be fun, or to label her as crummy. Sending a private message! (It’ll be later this morning, as I have to get ready for my very fun yoga class.) Best wishes.

Kelly

Karen said: Apr 2, 2012
Karen Huffman
Suzuki Association Member
Piano, Suzuki Early Childhood Education
Portland, OR
28 posts

Totally agree with Kelly and Charliah. She is 4 years old. With 4 year olds, I just take what I can get and when the lesson has to end, the lesson has to end. I learned that if I try to push anything, anything I cover after I have lost them really has no impact. Usually with kids like that, I will teach as long as they last and then might have a Q&A session with the parent to fill up the rest of the time. Or I might just ask about the family and chit chat. I have one who would hardly last 5 minutes when he started but now he usually gets through the whole half hour. Remember, building focus and concentration is part of what you are teaching your students! Not just the music! And giving up on someone because they are difficult really does send the wrong message. Hang in there!

Phyllis Calderon said: Apr 2, 2012
Phyllis CalderonViolin, Suzuki Early Childhood Education, Suzuki in the Schools, Piano
Chicago, IL
22 posts

Thanks for your insights Karen, Kelly and Charliah! I agree with you all. I teach lots of very young beginners and one thing I do is what Karen suggested—work/teach/talk with the parent if the student has shut down. After all, the parent is the teacher 24/7. I also try to engage the student with games, activities… as you all have suggested. I remember a beginner 4-year-old who began with a 15-minute private lesson, who was always wrapped around her mom’s legs or climbing under the piano bench. The mother was great; never gave up. Today the student is a budding and very musical 6th grader who is still playing violin and has added piano to her routine. Now it’s the “preteen blues” setting in, but still we are in for the long haul. Please don’t give up on the more emotional or overly active (in my case) students. Remember, it’s all about small steps at the beginning and lots of educating our parents. And remember Suzuki words: “Teaching is not my main purpose. I want to make good citizens.” Build up the whole child. To echo Karen, you’re not only teaching the music. So, don’t give up.

Also, Charliah, thanks for the book recommendation.

Phyllis Calderon
Director, String Instructor
A Touch of Classical Plus, Inc.—Calderon Music Studio
www.atouchofclassicalplus.musicteachershelper.com

Paula Bird said: Apr 2, 2012
 
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Piano, Viola
Wimberley, TX
386 posts

There may be a lot more to this story. This is where the fun of teaching comes into play. What is the child’s personality style? Each personality style has its own unique way of control behavior. Choleric personalities tend to control with the threat of anger. Melancholy personalities tend to control with the threat of moodiness. So it’s important to understand which personality style the child reflects naturally.

Next I would ponder what happens after the child displays this behavior. Does the lesson end? Does the child get to go onto an easier activity? What happens next? I have one parent who offers her child two options: practice or do the dishes. Need you guess which activity the child chooses? Another one of my parents offers practice versus cleaning chores. No problems there either.

I would also investigate the home practice routine. Often times I see strange behaviors in a child when the practice schedule has been erratic or the listening program has not been followed daily at home. When I investigate carefully into these possibilities, sometimes I discover that the parent is not really practicing very thoroughly at home or consistently.

I would also investigate what happens prior to the lesson. For example, I have a student whose parents recently divorced. This six-year-old is a struggle at lessons after every visit with the noncustodial parent. I have to be consistent in reestablishing teacher/student boundaries and reminding the students of appropriate and expected behaviors in lessons and in the studio. I understand this child’s acting out behaviors, but I have also let her know that it is my job to make sure that she practices the appropriate skills and behaviors that she needs when she grows up. The child’s mom is completely on board with this approach, and I work with her to make sure that she is consistent with the practice and listening routine. It is difficult in a divorce situation sometimes if both parents are not working together, but there are ways to address this. That’s another SAA discussion thread.

As you can see, there may be a lot more to this story. I would enjoy continuing this discussion. I have written about the personality styles on my blog. The post is called the “Clash of the Personality Titans.”

Paula E. Bird
TX State University
Wildflower Suzuki Studio
http://teachsuzuki.blogspot.com (blog)
http://teachsuzuki.com (podcast)

Paula Bird said: Apr 2, 2012
 
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Piano, Viola
Wimberley, TX
386 posts

link

Paula E. Bird
TX State University
Wildflower Suzuki Studio
http://teachsuzuki.blogspot.com (blog)
http://teachsuzuki.com (podcast)

Paula Bird said: Apr 2, 2012
 
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Piano, Viola
Wimberley, TX
386 posts

link

Paula E. Bird
TX State University
Wildflower Suzuki Studio
http://teachsuzuki.blogspot.com (blog)
http://teachsuzuki.com (podcast)

Paula Bird said: Apr 2, 2012
 
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Piano, Viola
Wimberley, TX
386 posts

It was a two part article, hence the two links.

Paula E. Bird
TX State University
Wildflower Suzuki Studio
http://teachsuzuki.blogspot.com (blog)
http://teachsuzuki.com (podcast)

Irene Mitchell said: Apr 2, 2012
Irene Mitchell
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Dallas, TX
111 posts

The depth of love for teaching and wisdom shared through your postings is inspirational, ladies. My students and I are lucky that I get to read this discussion!

Irene Mitchell

Yann-Bor Wen said: Apr 2, 2012
Yann-Bor WenViolin, Viola
Houston, TX
4 posts

Thanks for all the wonderful suggestions. I will definitely read and do more research on the topic and talk to the mother more to see if there’s any underlying reasons for the behavior she is aware of.

There was a period of time when the student right before her would stay to watch her lesson (another 4 year old; the parents are friends). She would perform very well the entire 45 minute lesson with no complaints whatsoever. So as far as concentration and behavior, I know she is capable. When there was no observer of her lesson, the behavior came back.

I feel like it might also be a discipline issue, and that whenever the child acts this way, the mother goes along with what she wants. However, I also do not want to un-motivate her from playing the violin by making her frustrated with it.

To reply to your questions, Paula, when the child is at ease, she is usually happy and tells me lots of random thoughts. She is very observational and comments on anything that reminds her of something she saw on the tv, etc. She also follows directions very, very well, and never fights with me (says no) when I ask her to do something.

Usually, after she displays this behavior, her mother makes her take a break and have some snacks that she brought to lesson (I say “makes” because the child says she does not want to). Lesson then resumes on a slightly better tone, and I can usually get a good 3-5 minutes in before she does it again. If it is close to the end of lesson (5 minutes left), I will usually just end the lesson. However, the child is still in a foul mood after lesson ends and refuses to say “bye” to me or my puppy (whom she loves) after her mother asks her to “be polite.” I just cannot seem to pinpoint the origin of the cause of this behavior, and so, it seems impossible to avoid it.

Sue Hunt said: Apr 2, 2012
Sue Hunt
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Violin
390 posts

Don’t worry. She’s only 4 and some kids do take a while to learn what is acceptable behaviour at lesson time.

Before labelling her with a supposed condition, there are a few of things that it might be helpful to consider:

-1 The time of her lesson. She might be a better morning person.

-2 Is she over programmed? Some parents think that giving children lots of activities to do will make up for not spending adequate time with them. How about cutting down on what you are expecting her to do in a lesson and practice.

-3 Are you consistent about what behaviour you will allow during a lesson? Do you stop the lesson before it gets out of hand?

-4 Is she being praised for good results or for focus and effort. Praising on focus and effort has been proved to be about 50% more motivating than praising for talent. You may be interested in an article I’ve written, on my sobering experience praising twins. It tells how careful, well intentioned praise backfired severely with one and helped the other.

-5 Who is boss at home, she or her parents? What are her boundaries? Children who are allowed to rule the roost can be very insecure and tantrumy. Gentle but firm guidelines are essential for happiness.

Paula Bird said: Apr 2, 2012
 
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Piano, Viola
Wimberley, TX
386 posts

Great article, Sue! While I completely understand the point and agree with you, I also wonder if perhaps that second twin was more of the sanguine personality. That personality does tend to focus on activities that come easily and to avoid any efforts at working. I remember as children when audience members would come up and sing praises to my mother about how talented my sister and I were. My mother was very quick to respond with the information that it wasn’t talent but actually a great deal of hard work that brought us to the point that we’ve reached at the recital.

Paula E. Bird
TX State University
Wildflower Suzuki Studio
http://teachsuzuki.blogspot.com (blog)
http://teachsuzuki.com (podcast)

André said: Apr 2, 2012
André AugensteinViolin, Piano
55 posts

children go through phases,we must know how to deal with these phases,sometimes
what you teach today will be useful now or in the future.
I hope to have helped.
Greetings
André Gomes Augenstein
Violin Teacher

Violin Student(International Suzuki Association) in Germany 1987
Violin teacher (International Suzuki Association) in Dublin 1995

Kiyoko said: Jan 23, 2013
 84 posts

Wow! Really? A 45 minute private lesson for a four year old? Is this typical for Suzuki kids these days?

This reminds me of my sister and why she was not allowed to start her until she was four, even though I started at three. Our starting lessons lasted for 15 minutes if I remember right. What can I expect these days?

I hope it is okay I am posting this in the Teacher’s Corner, but I’m reading up for my son who I’m considering doing Suzuki with when he is ready. I learned myself from the age of three with Suzuki violin teachers, and am curious to know how teaching perspectives have developed.

Michelle McManus Welch said: Jan 23, 2013
 
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Lindenhurst, IL
42 posts

I’ve never heard of a 45 minute lesson for a 4 year old. Their attention span is 15 minutes; 20 if you are lucky. If for some reason the place I teach structures lesson times for 30 minutes (I don’t always teach at Suzuki locations) I teach the parent for the rest of the time while the child plays quietly.

Michelle Mc Manus Welch

Karen Zethmayr said: Jan 23, 2013
Karen ZethmayrViolin
15 posts

The first program I taught in was Project Super at Eastman School of Music, begun under Dr. Suzuki’s guidance. We started all preschoolers (4 and under) at 15 minutes. We encouraged parents to arrive early or stay late to catch some comradeship and mutual support from adjacent parents and kids.

It was gruelling to stay on schedule if you had a string of 15 minute blocks, and I’ve subsequently learned other models of time division that help. All I can say is that 45 minutes is a looooooooong time at age 4 unless there are many and varied activities switching between small motor, large motor, dance, vocal, social, individual, and many many games not all with the instrument. Such variety is easier in group sessions, which is one of 1000 reasons we do them.

Karen

Lindsay said: Jan 23, 2013
Lindsay LogsdonViolin
55 posts

This is not lesson-specific, but a good reminder of where young children are coming from—

link

Lindsay—Violin teacher, homeschooling mama of four, small-time publisher
http://www.essextalentacademy.com
http://www.talentpress.net

JoAnn said: Jan 23, 2013
 Violin, Viola
20 posts

I think it can be said without question that it is not the Suzuki norm to do a 45 minute lesson with a four year old. 15-20 minutes with the child and the remainder with the parent is what normally happens in my studio and the studios of the teachers that I know.

In fact, many of the teachers I know schedule 20 minute lessons for a beginning 4 year old, but I prefer to schedule 30 minutes and have time to do a lot of different things, engage in the “games” the parent should be doing to practice with the child at home or work with the parent.

Many of my younger students are siblings of current students which makes it so much easier to do their first lessons- I simply tack on 15 minutes to the other child’s lesson and since the Mom has already done this before- doesn’t need the extra help. This is much nicer than them having to drag everyone out for a 20 minute lesson. Of course, that child has already been “studying” for a while since they have been hearing the older sibling play and usually can sing most of the early songs already.

I can do 30 minutes with a four year old, but there is a lot of change up of activity and it really depends on the child. Some kids just have better focus than others- even at 5 or 6.

Merietta Oviatt said: Jan 24, 2013
Merietta Oviatt
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Suzuki in the Schools, Cello, Viola
Stevens Point, WI
104 posts

I think we must remember that we go at the pace of the child. Perhaps a 45 minute lesson is too long (I normally start my young beginners with a 30 minute lesson where half is for the child and half is for the parent OR a 15 minute lesson for student only) and that could be re-evaluated in this situation. However, I do have a 5 year old who is currently at a 45 minute lesson. However, she has been in lessons for 2 years, is completing book 2 with all of the extra technique and theory that goes along with it. This little girl is very unusual in that she can completely handle the longer lesson with full attention (but then again, she reads at a 4th/5th grade level). The point is, however, that just because she is 5 years old shouldn’t determine that she can only have a certain length of lesson…just as putting a 4 year old in a 45 minute (where they cannot hold their attention that long) may not be the right call, either. We must judge each individual child in front of us and determine what is best for them.

Dr. Merietta Oviatt
Suzuki Specialist
Viola/Violin Instructor
Aber Suzuki Center, University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point
www.uwsp.edu/suzuki
www.merietta.com
[javascript protected email address]

Heather Reichgott said: Jan 31, 2013
Heather ReichgottPiano
South Hadley, MA
95 posts

First of all, four year olds are contractually obligated to have rapid-cycling emotions. It’s adults who still act like four year olds who might possibly be bipolar.

I wonder if you might have a kid with a lot of musical awareness? who knows exactly what she wants her music to sound like, and is easily frustrated when her current ability does not match what she wants to hear? In some ways those kids are harder to teach than the “good students” who happily follow the teacher but don’t have as much of an internal sense of their ideal sound.

Or it could be a discipline issue, in which case your best bet is to be friendly and firm, creating a loving and disciplined environment for the lesson at least, if it isn’t happening at home.

Or she could just be a very smart kid who takes in information easily and is also easily overwhelmed, in which case you could try spending more time on a fewer number of activities.

And I agree about lesson length—I regularly teach 3- and 4-year-olds, in a half-hour lesson. With kids with any kind of behavior issue I only try to make 20-25 minutes direct instructional time—the rest is games, singing, talking about the kid’s favorite music or meeting their dolls or making up operas about ghosts (this was the only thing that worked for one 5-year-old for a few weeks) or other relationship and confidence building activities.

Good luck. She is lucky to have a teacher who notices what’s happening with her and who cares so much!!

Barb said: Feb 4, 2013
Barb Ennis
Suzuki Association Member
Cello
678 posts

Lindsay—that’s a FUNNY (because it’s so true) post about three year olds you linked to! Thanks for that. :-)

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

Sue Hunt said: Feb 5, 2013
Sue Hunt
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Violin
390 posts

When kids act out, perhaps we are just overwhelming them.

I’m experimenting teaching a very lively 3 year old at the end of her brother’s lesson. She can only have a go if she has sat quietly during her brother’s turn. She only gets 5 minutes a week and can’t wait to have a go.

She is learning to be quiet when needed, because one interruption and she looses her time with me. She’s also getting the idea that lessons are fun and safe, as she won’t be swamped by too much to take on at once. Oh yes, she’s becoming a lovely viola Pre Twinkler.

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