Discipline during the violin lessons?

Barbara Stafford said: Sep 26, 2012
Barbara Stafford
Suzuki Association Member
Violin
Plano, TX
59 posts

I am new to teaching young children suzuki violin. I want the student to have fun and look forward to coming to lessons. We have only had three lessons but I am noticing the 5 year old is very silly at this point and not really trying to focus on the task.
I’m afraid to ask for seriousness.
Any suggestions for setting up the right level of seriousness in the mind frame for the lessons?
Thank you for any help!!!!
Barbara

Teri said: Sep 26, 2012
Teri EinfeldtTeacher Trainer
Institute Director
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
West Hartford, CT
367 posts

Barbara,
Have you read or heard about Ed Kreitman’s million dollar lesson?
Enjoy,
Teri

The Million Dollar Lesson
By Ed Kreitman

The million dollar lesson is designed to help young students learn what is and is not appropriate lesson behaviour. In my experience teaching, I have found that most young children eventually decide to “test the water” of lesson behaviour to see exactly what they can get away with. When this happens, the parent and teacher have the opportunity to teach the child that it is alright to manipulate the lesson, wasting everyone’s valuable time, and the parent’s money, or we can teach the child that inappropriate lesson behaviour is unacceptable.
First let’s define inappropriate lesson behaviour. Hiding under a desk, in the corner or under the piano is inappropriate lesson behaviour. Clinging to mother’s skirt with a thumb stuck in the mouth is inappropriate lesson behaviour. Acting bratty, and refusing to cooperate with the teacher is inappropriate lesson behaviour. Having an all out temper tantrum in the middle of the studio because you don’t want to play Lightly Row is inappropriate lesson behaviour.
If we allow this type of activity to go on in our studios, the child will learn that he or she is able to control the lesson. I have had several who whined for 25 minutes until the next student showed up, then threw a temper tantrum because it was time to go and they couldn’t have a lesson. This type of thing never happens in my studio anymore. Years ago, I learned from my mentor, Jeanne Luedke, that we need to address this situation even before it happens. With every new parent that enters my studio, part of the parent education is to discuss exactly how we will handle any situation dealing with appropriate lesson behaviour. Our goal is to train the child quickly and easily to have a productive lesson. I tell the parent that eventually, the child will come to the lesson and be tired, or fussy, or just decide that today is the day to test the perimeters of my patience, and pull something that is inappropriate. When that happens, the parent and I have a plan. First the parent is asked to take the child outside of the studio and have a talk. See if perhaps they need a drink, bathroom break, or whatever, to try to get it together. If this does not work, we agree that the parent will remove the child from the studio immediately, with no discussion. I usually say something like, “looks like today is the day” with a smile. The effectiveness of this lesson is lost if there is discussion or delay. The child needs to experience that hiding under the desk this minute produces the result of being in the car on the way home the next minute. The important part about having this plan set up in advance with the parent is that there is no anger on the part of the teacher, and no embarrassment on the part of the parent. We are simply going through the motions together of a necessary routine which will bring about a very positive change in the child’s behaviour.
I would say that almost every child I have taught has had the million dollar lesson once. A few have had it twice, and if a child needs to have it a third time. I usually suggest to the parent that the child is not quite ready for formal instruction, and perhaps a break period of 3 to 6 months might be advised.
Incidentally, I call this the million dollar lesson, because one time as the mother was taking her screaming child out the door, she asked over her shoulder if there would be a makeup, or a refund for the lesson. Without thinking, I replied, “Oh no, you are definitely getting your money’s worth this week. This is the MILLION DOLLAR LESSON.”
And you know what? That girl played Bruch Violin Concerto on the solo recital last Sunday.

Sue Hunt said: Sep 27, 2012
Sue Hunt
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Violin
390 posts

Please be sure to explain this to the parent before you implement it. I used to give parents a copy of the million dollar lesson article and assumed that they would study it thoroughly, whilst agreeing with and internalising the concept. The first time I gave the $1,000,000 lesson, the poor overstressed parent had no idea of what was going on. This resulted in a double meltdown, child and parent.

Teri said: Sep 27, 2012
Teri EinfeldtTeacher Trainer
Institute Director
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
West Hartford, CT
367 posts

I agree with Sue 100%. Ideally, this would be part of the on-going parent education.

Ruth Brons said: Sep 27, 2012
Ruth Brons
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Livingston, NJ
148 posts

I interpret the emergence of sillies from a new student, aged 5, to mean that the student does not yet completely feel safe in the lesson situation. Most parents have no idea of how big a project it is to study an instrument. So, by the third lesson, can it be a surprise that a 5 year old is starting to wonder if the whole endeavor is more than he bargained for? While it would seem to the teacher and the parent that those first lessons are all about setting up the fundamentals of violin technique, I have come to learn that to the child those lessons are about establishing trust. Some children are just naturally fearless, but others have a fear of failure issue to overcome. Those children are feeling: Is this teacher going to explain things so I can understand? Is she going to find my learning speed and style? Most importantly, is she going to ask me to do more than I can deliver? The sillies can be a way for a child to express discomfort and to attempt to seize control of the situation, to opt out of a perceived threatening situation.

The Million Dollar Lesson is definitely a tried and true way to put control back in the adult arena once the sillies have truly taken over. But often this situation can be circumvented if care is taken to read the very first signs of silliness as a cue to slow down and take some pressure off the student: switch to a seated on the floor activity including the parent [rhythms, singing]; put the brakes on the new information and skill introduction; circle back to a non-threatening review activities where there will be much success and praise.

You need that child to leave each lesson feeling really proud and competent about—something! Then you can build upon that foundation.

This is but one of the many challenges that make teaching so endlessly rewarding!

Best Wishes,

Paula Bird said: Sep 27, 2012
 
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Piano, Viola
Wimberley, TX
386 posts

And may I add to Ruth’s comments, that sometimes silly and inappropriate behaviors are a result on inadequate home preparation, including practice, routine, consistency, and listening. When a parent comes to a lesson with “white space” (as in, not practicing or listening), I usually warn them of the types of student behaviors we are likely to see. That way the parent can see the connection between the parent’s behavior at home in between lessons and the child’s behavior during lessons.

Some kids act out because they feel a lack of connection, but after hugs and other things have been done, there may be little left than to give the lesson. And there are some kids who need the lesson anyway. I have one now that acts up every chance she can. Split family, and dad using bribes during his viditations, do not help mom or teacher during lessons. It’s a trial.

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

Barbara Stafford said: Sep 27, 2012
Barbara Stafford
Suzuki Association Member
Violin
Plano, TX
59 posts

I really appreciate what everyone is saying.
And, I will keep reading if more people have experiences and ideas.
Thank you for your responses!
Barbara

Wendy Caron Zohar said: Sep 27, 2012
Wendy Caron Zohar
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Ann Arbor, MI
94 posts

So much wisdom in what you wrote, Ruth. It is imperative to meet the child at his/her level of comfort and leave the student finishing the lesson with a sense of accomplishment. I would not go to the MDL ($mill lesson) so early on, either. First aim to develop a pattern of trust and some successes with the child, starting on basics.

I agree with you, Paula, that such behavior can sometimes indicate that things are not quite right at home. That being said, I too experienced one very immature but precociously bright 5 year old. The parents were ready with their part at each lesson, notebook in hand and following everything closely. At his first lesson he sang the entire Twinkle song by himself, in perfect intonation and with all the right words, but soon after that he melted down in uncontrollable sillies and aggressive rudeness. The parent was helpless to alter the mood. In the lessons that followed I led our sessions through a variety of games and fun activities leading to playing readiness. All to no avail; this child was resolved at each lesson to behave in an unruly and silly manner and I had to end our sessions early several times.

After several frustrating sessions, with Mom and Dad attending in turn, in which I met the child at his level, engaging in enjoyable music readiness (movement, rhythm and melody) activities and games, they decided to try bringing along their nanny. It turned out that the doting parents, both full time university professors, are raising their single child by employing a full-time nanny, who is with the child all day, doing everything to appease the child’s demands and keep him happy, all of which place him very much at the center of his universe. The nanny told me that she takes him to group art classes, movement groups, story reading, and other activities, and in each one the teachers have been coming out with the child and asking her to bring him home as he is too disruptive, and demanding to be the center of attention. The nanny did not have the authority to discipline or train the child, just to keep him happy, so she would keep her job. No wonder I could make no headway with this child! I had long and serious communications with the parents about their role and the work that needs to be done at home, before this child can begin to learn from anyone, and grow and develop normally!

With all my decades of teaching I hadn’t met a case such as this, so I consulted with a Suzuki “master teacher”. What I learned in the case of this kind of behavior was to set a requirement that before continuing with the child, that he and a parent (not the nanny in this case!) attend and observe regular group and individual classes for a period of up to 6 months, to see how other children work together with a teacher; how they listen, wait their turn, follow instructions, progress, and grow. The recalcitrant child will either experience a growing desire to be part of this fun and productive activity, or not. If the child “gets it” and wants to join in, he needs to acknowledge that he must try to learn to behave in the way other learning children do. I hope this helps other teachers who may experience this kind of challenge.

Good luck! This work is so rewarding, as we are helping develop young human beings!

Wendy Caron Zohar

Paula Bird said: Sep 27, 2012
 
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Piano, Viola
Wimberley, TX
386 posts

Wendy, what a horrible story! Sometimes I cannot believe that the parents do not see these problems. They seem so obvious to everyone else! Dr. Suzuki had it right when he stated that parents need to do more reflection about their own behavior and influence over their children.

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

Sue Hunt said: Sep 28, 2012
Sue Hunt
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Violin
390 posts

Wendy, I love the idea of asking families to observe and at the same time , observing them to see when they are ready to restart. If a family is ready to commit to 6 months of observation (not much, in the scheme of things), there is hope.

Carol Gwen said: Sep 28, 2012
Carol Gwen Kiefer
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Washington Crossing, PA
75 posts

It’s been my experience, not extensive by any means, that children who are cared for daily by nannies don’t do well. Even the brightest. I get frustrated due to lack of consistency and too many activities keeping the child busy. Eventually, the parents stop the lessons, which aren’t going well to begin with. Ultimately, it’s the child who suffers.

Elizabeth Friedman said: Nov 11, 2012
Elizabeth Friedman
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
49 posts

Observation! I have never been great (and still am not great) at encouraging parents and students to observe lessons. My teaching room is tiny (I live in the UK, where all rooms are just nearly big enough) but the few students who have observed before beginning lessons know what is expected and hit the ground running, so to speak.

Now new students must observe before I put them on my waiting list, and a great rule to go by is that your next spot should go to the child who has observed the most lessons. (And a great line, even if you don’t have a waiting list: “I don’t have any space at the moment, but if you’d like to observe some lessons, these are my available times…” and then give them a spot after they’ve observed a few times. Totally worth the wait.)

I do resonate with the idea that children tend to act goofy if they’re not totally comfortable… but sometimes they’re just being cheeky. The million dollar lesson, while difficult on the day, is a great resource and works very well. It is particularly difficult to explain to any parents who aren’t keen on discipline, however. From your perspective, though, it is incredibly important to nip any bargaining in the bud immediately, and ensure the child understands that it is you who sets the agenda. They should still be allowed to be children, but that’s what stickers, five seconds of ‘wiggle time’, and games are for.

Good luck!

Sue Hunt said: Nov 12, 2012
Sue Hunt
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Violin
390 posts

I totally agree with Carol. All of my students who are cared for by nannies, have had so many extra curricular activities that they struggle to fit in any practice. I have been really shocked when a 5 year old turned once up (late of course) for group, having been to 2 prior activities. It is really important to explain to parents the consequences of missing practice. For every day of missed practices, about 50% of what isn’t yet an internalised skill will be lost. Yes, day one = 50%, day 2 = 75%, day 3 = 87% etc. How disheartening for a child to have to relearn skills, that have worked on so hard, in his last practice session. See my blog, Two Stress Busting Practice Ideas. It features Mia, a pre twinkler, hugely over programmed by her working mum, who, feeling guilty about the lack of quality time, found it impossible to insist on practice.

Observation is so important. We mustn’t be lead astray by assuming that everyone knows how to take a lesson or how to practice. As well as observing lessons, I recommend observing a more experienced family practice. Does anyone have a mentoring system set up, to encourage this?

Emily said: Nov 29, 2013
 59 posts

It sounds like your student is really testing the waters. I would tell her what is appropriate and what is not. If you don’t let her know what is expected up front, then she will continue to test you, and it will get worse. Don’t ignore it. The parent should be at part of the practice, maybe you should talk to the parent and let them know that if it continues, you will ask the parent to stay the entire time.

Emily Christensen
Music Teacher & Writer
www.musiceducationmadness.org

Patricia said: Apr 17, 2015
 
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Martinsville, NJ
58 posts

Barbara, i hope you feel like you have the experince now with 5 year olds. I haven’t been on for a long time…. (Was attacked by a dog and had to have surgery and going through spinals). I have already argued agaisnt using the MDL. So i won’t do that here (sorry, Terri…i love you, but will have to respectfully disgaree with a MDL…especially for a 5 year old)……. My Mission statement for my program is i teach anyone how to play violin using the best music around, holding to the highest standards possible in the happiest of environments. I totally agree with Terri that before any student starts with me, they have watched a few lessons, attended a few group classes…. Probably even participated in a few….and the parent understands we may see all kinds of behavior once private lessons start. I actually like kids who see how far they can go……. When i get one…… I make sure…the second they walk in….. I don’t give them any slack to start being silly….. And i have to tone myself down to them…..because i tend to be silly to teach them…but if I do that to a child who might use being silly as a way to get rid of nerves…..then we don’t learn anything. some people think that by asking the parents to wait to start lessons until they watch some lessons and groups and concerts is a waste of time….and some want to get started right away….but i find for my program….the parents really appreciate i am in no hurry to get started until they feel they undestand and set the stage for success. What i used to find hard was when I was in college and had a Young Artists Concert in Schools and have an entire class giggling throughout the concert….. Guess it taught me how to react…so now when i teach nothing throws me off. Hope your teaching is going well.

Patricia said: Apr 18, 2015
 
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Martinsville, NJ
58 posts

I was just cleaning some boxes from my early days of teaching. (I moved to a nicer church last year amidst surgery and stuff …. i have wonderful parents who did the move while I was recuperating)…… when I was younger and didn’t have the experience i have now… i borrowed a sign I saw in the 3 year old preschool room …. I decorated it with violins, music notes and happy faces….. It reads:
Rules of the Classroom: No crying allowed unless you are Hurt. We Use words to talk to each other. We never Hit or Kick anyone. We always ask for a hug. Listen with Good Ears before doing. Allow your teacher to help you. You are a Good Student by trying everything!

I also added a sign for Parents (decorated like the one for kids)
Rules for Parents: Allow your child to get his/her instrument out themselves. Allow your child to answer questions. Allow your child to do mistakes—The teachers LOVE helping. Allow your child to accept their weekly accomplishments and disappointments. (hopefully not that many). Have a wonderful time watching your child learn. Take notes, but more importantly observe what the teacher is doing. (you may record the lesson if you want). You are a Great Parent!

I remember the very few times some behavior would start…. I would just point to the rules and the child understood…… they had the same rules in every preschool classroom around. Hope your teaching is going well.

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