Tired parent, need encouragement, please!

Nadia said: Oct 16, 2012
 Violin
16 posts

I have an eight year-old who is in Book 4 (Second Seitz Concerto). After four years of making him practice, I’m about to throw my towel in!! He has enough aptitude in music and strong desire to continue in violin study, but he still doesn’t initiate getting violin out and complains that he has to practice EVERY SINGLE TIME. (twice a day/ each practice would be about 20 min. long if he didn’t dawdle so much.) I find myself really tempted to yell, “forget it, you don’t deserve private lesson or this $$ instrument!!” I am also very much tempted to just not bother to make sure he gets his practice done, and see if he’d ever practice on his own. I’m so done with making all the fun charts with lots of stickers, using animal puppets as a teacher to speak in a squeaky voice, etc., because I’m putting in far more work into it than he does, or so it seems. He’s advanced in many areas of study, but not socially. I feel that he’s been advanced too fast through all the pieces in Suzuki Books, and now I have to make him practice at more advanced level though he does not have maturity for it. Any parents and teachers with words of wisdom and encouragement?? THANKS!

Carrie said: Oct 17, 2012
 
Suzuki Association Member
58 posts

That’s tough! When I was going through that with my daughter, at the first sign of complaint, I sent her to the porch for 10 minutes. I brought her in, we tried again. Again, at the first sign of complaint, I sent her out for 10 minutes. The third time she was out there for an hour and had to draw from the “job basket” when the hour was up (things like organize the tupperware cupboard, wash the walls in the hallway… I also had one blank card, kind of like “get out of jail free”). The next day, at the first sign of complaint, she spent 10 minutes on the porch, then decided she didn’t want to go through the whole thing again and cooperated without complaint. The third day she spent 10 minutes on the porch again. After that, the complaints were few and far between.

When we came up against a similar problem a couple of years later, the need was less about obedience and more about her need to have more control of her life. I began treating her more like I treat my other students and less like my daughter. In other words, I began to lead more by asking questions than directing her. “How do you feel about how you just played that?” got a much better response than, “You know it would have gone better if you had practiced more.”

Suzuki said that when something isn’t working in teaching a child, the parent and/or teacher needed to find another way to teach it. (My paraphrase) I have six children of my own and found that I had to find different ways of helping them to be the best they could be. Believe that you can find a way to motivate your child and look for that way.

Three good resources are:
Helping Parents Practice
Have a New Kid by Friday (or Have a New Teenager by Friday)
Love and Logic—parenting classes—look online to find one in your area

Blessings!

carebear1158

Carrie said: Oct 17, 2012
 
Suzuki Association Member
58 posts

I was just thinking of a fun way to illustrate your son’s behavior for him. Your comment about his complaining about practicing every single time made me think about how I feel some times that my family insists on eating dinner every single day. :-) On an evening when you have a little time, don’t start making dinner. What he asks, “What’s for dinner?” respond as he does about practicing. Whine, fuss, complain… Once you’ve made the point, you can explain that you get tired of doing it every single day too, but some things just need to be done every day, then ask for his help to make the dinner.

carebear1158

Barb said: Oct 17, 2012
Barb Ennis
Suzuki Association Member
Cello
678 posts

I know a student who was usually reluctant to BEGIN practicing (was fine once she got started) whose mother made it a bit easier by always getting her cello out and getting things set up for her. If she still didn’t come sometimes the mother would start to try to play the instrument, which would usually result in the daughter rescuing the instrument (or the music itself?). :-)

Have you talked to his teacher regarding possibly advancing too quickly? I started violin at 9 and at 11 was starting book 4. For me it went from being fun to being work at that time, which I wasn’t really prepared for. Not that I couldn’t have done it, but I wasn’t mentally in that space and quit private lessons. (I think not liking the high notes must have been a factor, too—note I switched to cello!) Maybe I wasn’t mature enough for the more mature music, as you say?

Perhaps the teacher would be open to a break from advancing in the Suzuki repertoire, and just continue with review and something different at the same level for a while. (Christmas music for now, for instance? or more time with reading if he isn’t already a strong reader? 2nd parts for earlier books?)

Dawdling is also addressed in this discussion thread.

Carrie, thanks for sharing your success story, and the idea about making dinner! I second the recommendation of Ed Sprunger’s book Helping Parents Practice.

Best wishes!

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

Mary said: Oct 17, 2012
 39 posts

You didn’t say why you think he is complaining so much. But I think that would be important to find out. Because if he is complaining and procrastinating just to see what he can get away with then I think following Carrie’s suggestions makes a lot of sense. But when we went through something similar last year with my almost 8 year old working on Book 4 I found the reason for the complaints was more because he found book 4 really hard and was often trying to put off practice because he didn’t quite know how to handle the sudden jump in difficulty and was demoralized by the amount of mistakes he was making. I think there have been other posts on this discussion site that has talked about the technical challenges in book 4 and I found them very true for my child. It’s true that a child who has progressed to book 4 has the ability to work through the tough technical challenges at that point, but not alone. 8 year olds don’t have the emotional maturity yet to really make that music sing without hard work and they don’t have the discipline to do the work it takes to master all the new skills thrown their way such as vibrato or double stops… wait until you get to the 3rd Seitz! I think the most important thing I can say about mentally surviving the challenge of book 4 with an 8 year old is to remember 3 things:

  1. He is only an 8 year old. So while he may play like an older child, emotionally they are just 8 year old kids and they need to feel safe to make mistakes and continue to have music be just plain fun. I never did and still don’t get worked up about whether or not he is initiating practice or coming over to pull out his violin without my asking because those are things that I know he will do when he gets older. For now, we still have the same activity transition rituals in place as when he was 4. I give him the 5 minute warning and then start to pull his violin out and tune it while he makes sure to go to the bathroom to pee and wash his hands so that we can just get down to playing. And we always start every practice with a big hug and smile. And we always end a practice with a hug no matter how horribly things went.

  2. He is in book 4!!! I think after a while we parents can take for granted the rate of our child’s progress and just keep expecting them to sustain that level of development when they really can’t without feeling very stressed. Book 4 has a lot of new skills that should be learned with care and patience. Whenever I step back and think about how much he has learned from when he started at the age of 4 to now, I am more able to say it’s ok to go slowly today because every little bit of good practice helps.

  3. Your teacher is there to help. After a few really horrible practices when we were working through the 3rd Seitz I emailed his teacher to tell her that things were not going well and that the last few practices had extended episodes of crying and complaining that was awful for all. Until then she had no idea, because we were slogging through the practices at home and even with tears and tantrums he was doing what was assigned and playing everything back correctly in the lesson. So our teacher just had the sense that things were more or less ok at home. But once she heard how things were going, she had a ton of great ideas of how to make things fun again. She went more slowly with the Book 4 repertoire, did a bit more previewing of the really tough parts ahead, added in some fun fiddle pieces, and Fiddle Magic (technique book geared for kids) that helped to build his technique in fun ways, and easy short sight reading pieces that he enjoyed, and lots of review. So if you haven’t already talked to your teacher, I would. And after that episode, she always makes a point to check in with me when she sees a challenge up ahead to make sure I am armed with ways to deal at home.

Another thing we did last year was to work on helping my child get the confidence and skills to start owning his practices and violin learning. In the past when he came across really tough passages, I would be the one to stop him and then break down the measure for him and have him practice certain note combinations until the fingerings or shifting stuck, telling him to repeat x times until I thought it was correct and then we’d move onto the next hard part and do it again. So I was the one in charge telling him what to fix and how. I think part of the problem with book 4 is that there are a lot of hard passages so there was a lot of me telling him what to do which was really wearing him down. Instead I started to have him talk out loud what was hard about a set of notes and why he thought the mistakes were happening. At first he wasn’t very communicative beyond “it’s hard because it’s stinky” but when I kept pushing him to articulate what was difficult he eventually learned to pinpoint the cause and talk about it. And he would be able to say it’s a hard fingering or unfamiliar shifting or tricky string crossings or something tangible that could be fixed once identified. Just having him to do that made a big change because he could see what needed to be fixed and often just talking out loud led him come up with a solution all by himself. I would help out if he needed other ideas, but overall having him identify the problem and try to come up with a solution has made a huge difference in our working relationship. And his teacher has also supported that growth by letting him decide how much of a new piece he wants to work on for the week. There are times when she’ll try to talk him into doing more but she is always gentle and backs off at signs of stress. But sometimes he does need a little push and takes great pride in knowing that his teacher has confidence in him.

I’ll just end by saying that we made it through Book 4 this summer and he and I were just so proud to have done it. Book 5 has been so much easier and his progress has been faster because of all the great work he did last year. He is now working through the Vivaldi Concerto in G minor and that has been quite a challenge, but he is really enjoying working through the piece. So good luck and hang in there. Take lots of deep breaths and remember that he is 8 and these years of working with him won’t be there forever. Hope this helps!

Barb said: Oct 17, 2012
Barb Ennis
Suzuki Association Member
Cello
678 posts

Pianolin Mom—thank you for your post! Nice to get the perspective of someone who’s been through it.

I should mention… I was doing book 4 on my own… did not have true Suzuki lessons, so my parents were not involved other than to say, “Have you practiced yet today?” when I asked to do something fun.

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

Nadia said: Oct 17, 2012
 Violin
16 posts

I AM DEFINITELY GOING TO TRY THE PORCH. AND “WHY DO I HAVE TO COOK DINNER EVERYDAY” strategy! I’m deeply humbled by Dr. Suzuki’s words—adult/teacher needs to find another way to teach if something is not working in teaching a child. Every time I hear that principle, I want to kick and scream “why do I have to change??” I think Suzuki method raises better parents. Of course, better parents leads to better parenting, which in turn make better kids. I’m going to read and re-read feedback from everyone and implement everything as it seems pertinent to my son’s /my situation. We have switched to a different instructor a month ago who is a real Suzuki instructor; she and my son are still getting to know each other, and I trust that the change was for better. I truly appreciate this website and the forum! I couldn’t have survived all these four years without you all who make the forum happen.

Carrie said: Oct 18, 2012
 
Suzuki Association Member
58 posts

Brooklyn,
I so agree with your statement, “The Suzuki Method raises better parents.” I learned so much while a Suzuki parent and even more as I took the training to become a Suzuki teacher. I continue to learn. But it’s up to the person. Some of my moms sit back and let their child do all the work. A few really work at it. Your son is blessed that you are one who is willing to learn and grow and become a better parent. Blessings!

carebear1158

Laura said: Oct 18, 2012
Laura Mozena
Suzuki Association Member
Violin
Palm City, FL
105 posts

First of all I am a teacher not a Mom, so take what I say with a grain of salt, but when students that age come to the lesson complaining and refusing to play I respond with the attitude that “I understand you, but this is our time together… we only get it once a week and we will be done in a half an hour… so we can either sit here and look at each other or have some fun with the violin” I usually get excuses like “I’m tired” And I just say “I know, me too, I understand” But we still play.

What if you practiced the exact same time every day. and using the dinner idea, maybe before dinner. And nothing else is done during that time besides practice (or maybe listen to the CD.

Another thing I try with parents who let me know practice is hard at home is to explain in front of the child that it is both mom and student’s responsibility to practice every day and if they don’t they will both be in trouble. I give each one of my business cards and ask to be called if the other isn’t full-filling their duty. Then Mom can say “you are complaining about practice and I don’t want to get in trouble next week so i am calling our teacher.” And I have never gotten a call from a student (with regard to the practice situation).

Talk to your teacher… I know I always want to know what’s going on at home. And good Luck.

Laura Mozena
YourMusicSupply.com

Michelle McManus Welch said: Oct 18, 2012
 
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Lindenhurst, IL
42 posts

I agree with Laura’s response to the complaining student; it works EVERY time. I often add, “Yes, I’m a little tired today too, but we’ll both be fine!” I am both a mom AND a teacher. I like the idea of the joint responsibility, and plan to use it.

Michelle Mc Manus Welch

Nadia said: Oct 19, 2012
 Violin
16 posts

Oh, Laura, you are everyone’s dream instructor! I’m going to use that trick though we don’t have our instructor’s number. (We take a lesson at a music school where teachers and students come.) Thanks!

Elizabeth said: Oct 21, 2012
Elizabeth K20 posts

Hi Brooklyn, Let me say first off that you are not alone in this. This is a completely normal response from your son. I’m a teacher, not a mom, but the way you described his aversion to practicing reminds me of what I went through, my friends, and my students around this age. There comes a point in every musician’s life where you have to start taking ownership of the music if you want to be even better. And you’re right in the thick of it with him. 

I think there are a few reasons why this is so difficult right now for both of you. Book 4 is a nightmare for most kids (pianolinmom is spot on with her response she gave you). It has gorgeous music, but the shifting passages are tough and the songs are hard to play beautifully. Plus, it’s when most Suzuki teachers stress more sight-reading practice. Also, you said he’s adjusting to a new teacher. That’s stressful, attaching to a new relationship, and it takes time. Kids get really attached to their private music teachers so even though he might do better with his new teacher in the long run, it doesn’t mean he’s over not having the other teacher in his life (especially if it’s the one he started with). Laura’s advice would work well here: empathize with him in how hard some of these changes are.

You’ve probably been used to having a very close and intense relationship with his practicing routine, just like Suzuki parents are instructed to do in the beginning. But giving him the room to take ownership for his music means letting go more than you might want to. And like you said, it might mean letting some of his social maturity catch up to his musical skill level. This is isn’t going to be easy for you or him—far from it. It’s going to feel odd and uncomfortable at times, not having this ultimate control and responsibility for his practicing. But it’ll be how he gets past this wall he’s facing right now.

I wouldn’t use the porch or dinner idea. My mom used similar methods to get me to understand the importance of practicing (come to think of it, exactly around this book 4 age) and it just upset and confused me, making music practice feel like a punishment. And the animal puppets might need to be retired too. Kids around this age tend to think they’re too big for those things. Practice charts aren’t bad necessarily—he might just want to start making his own.

Your first instinct was to stop fighting, just like you wrote in your original post. Go with that feeling. I’ve written about how you can overcome this obstacle with your son here.

Hope this helps!

Elizabeth

Practice for Parents Helping You Help Them

Caitlin said: Oct 22, 2012
Caitlin HunsuckViolin
Merced, CA
41 posts

Do not let you child quit at Book 4! This was a tough book for me when I went through the series, but looking back it was the first time I mucked through something difficult, but came out alive (something I took with me through high school, college, and as an adult through this awful economy!). A couple of things you should consider to make things “better:”

-Slowing down is OKAY. You may spend a few months on each concerto at this point. The main thing is to get it. Try to focus on “sections” of the Seitz rather the entire piece. Then put them together.

-Find the holes in his ability. Did you do Tonaliztion A LOT in Book 2? How about those 3rd position shifting edutes at the end of the book? Does he have all the finger patterns down pat? How about his bowing? Can he play Hunters Chorus and Chorus in Book 2 in an advanced way?

-Change strategy with listening. Just listening at this point may not be good enough. You need to listen to the piece while looking at the music… A LOT!

-REVIEW REVIEW REVIEW! If you have to, spend more time doing old stuff than going forward.

-Let him set rewards for getting stuff done. Small things, like playing from memory, up to speed, the fast part in the Seitz (Great, you did it, now we get our icecream date).

-Mix things up. Now you child should be pretty proficient on their instruments. You may want to get him “Barbara Barbers Solos for Young Violinists, Volume 1.” Maybe ask his teacher once he finishes a piece in Book 4, can he choose a piece to work on from the Solos book, and switch on and off.

-Create Peer Pressure. Yes, this was the best thing that go me practicing when I was younger. When I was playing with friends I wanted to be as good as them… and NOT let them get better than me. I wouldn’t tell him this, but rather make sure he has friends that are playing the violin that are around his level. Maybe get them together to play duets (he can play the duets to the first 3 books now, consider buying that duet book).

-Perform more. Your child is now good at playing the violin. It’s time to give back to the community. Get him together with friends and have them play for nursing homes, events, church etc. He’s eight, get him in the mind set it’s about him anymore, it’s about what he is doing for others with his violin.

Kim said: Oct 22, 2012
 39 posts

Thanks everyone on this thread! I also have a newly and somewhat reluctant 8 year old just about to start book 4 violin. This is all really helpful info!

Mary said: Oct 23, 2012
 39 posts

I don’t think I can stress enough the importance of slowing down the pace and practicing with care. This is where I think games and rewards can backfire if not done right. The games may get them to practice or repeat tough passages, but if they are not internalizing the lessons in terms of technique, intonation, phrasing, etc. then the piece will not get to the next level. At this stage they have to see the importance of effort leading to better playing and want to get there—with the beautiful music being the big reward. I think games can help if your child is starting to get grumpy and you need a fun distraction to keep the practice on track. But the parent has to be sure that the skill is really being learned correctly. Instead of games, I often had him play a tough passage extremely slowly and say that the only goal was for him to create a beautiful tone. So each note became a whole note and that exercise could be very calming especially if I reminded him to breathe. This was basically how we got through some very tough sections like the sixteenth note runs in the second Vivaldi or the double stops section of the 3rd Seitz. I think there were some nights we didn’t do more than a couple of measures on the working piece because it was so challenging and there just wasn’t any point to moving faster. He was still building muscle memory and developing a solid sense of proper intonation. With more familiarity he would eventually be able to play at the right speed and rhythm. We’d spend the rest of the practice working on review or other assignments (sight reading, fiddle tune, etc.) And that pace wasn’t stressful because it was something he could do but still asked for focused, hard work. For us, going any faster would have produced a stressed out kid playing the music poorly. The more he progressed through Book 4 the more confidence he got to take on the next challenge. So finding the right pace, no matter how slow is critical.

Nadia said: Oct 23, 2012
 Violin
16 posts

Reading everyone’s comments helped me identify one of the struggles. WHAT IS ENOUGH FOR ONE PRACTICE? It is now taking my son one hour average for each practice, and he doesn’t cover much during that time. I’d say he dawdles away 3/4 of that time with slooooooow motion between the actual practice, daydreaming of something else, and talking. Oh, it’s so painful. By the time he goes through “warm-up” consisting of practicing one scale and four tonalizations 40 min. might have already passed. He’s been described by other teachers “passively resistant” child whether at school or in various lessons. I am less likely the contributor of such gene between his two parents, and I’m getting bold from pulling my hair all the time! One question: if I help him focus on several measures during practice and let him call it quit, would he eventually gain momentum to practice more on his own, or would it lead to reduced quantity/quality lesson? Is this the stage where I let him focus on quality and quantity?? His daily practice routine is after breakfast and after dinner. I know it just depends on individual child and his phase, but I guess I’m wanting some testimonial…

Terri said: Oct 23, 2012
 
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Piano, Cello, Viola
10 posts

Maybe empower him to be more responsible for the practice? One strategy might be for him to give you a tape recording (showing my age here! what’s the contemporary equivalent?) of some portion of the practice—new spots, review, whatever. The key thing is that he needs to listen to the recording before giving it to you…makes him the judge and takes you out of the power play.

Gloria said: Oct 24, 2012
 
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
70 posts

Does he know how long it actually takes to do each one of this practice items? I often (teacher) do practice during the lesson looking at the clock, so that when we are done with, say, reading, I announce: “that took you one minutes and 20 seconds to do” , or whatever both kids and parents are often amazed, or I keep track of the repetitions with some fun little gadget, or even an hour glass.
Kids are often overwhelmed at the perspective of yet another never ending practice session (I remember mine very well…), so for those kids I suggest they break up between practice items, so that each one feels really short. Practice them to alternate piano and school homework until they are all done, or just take another kind of a break,. I know, it seems that they would save time if they do it all at once, but that is not the case for the kids. Perceptions mater A LOT!
At this point something is too much for him, so until that is not addressed, the music becomes a battle field. I have one kid like that as well, one specifically. Yesterday I announced to him that, unless his reading assignment is completed everyday and every week, I will no teach him any more new material, meaning new pieces. I am going to be his wall, since his mom will not do it. Some habits are very hard to break, yet they must be broken, Suzuki style, with lots of insight, patience and love, keeping all the while that vision for that child, and reminding them of it.

Mary said: Oct 24, 2012
 39 posts

40 minutes to do a scale and 4 tonalizations is hard. I can see why you’d be frustrated. Do you have a list of items to work on for each practice and do you show that to him ahead of time so he knows what to expect? I don’t have a written list, but I usually say before the start what we’re doing that day. But maybe a written list would work for him. Whenever my son is feeling really tired and unmotivated from a long day at school, I usually say we’re only going to do 2 review songs (he picks one and I pick the other) and then work on the new piece for a little bit. And that feels manageable to him. Often he can be talked into doing more once his violin is out and he’s had a little fun doing his review songs.

Are you also trying to do everything assigned in one practice session? Our teacher gives my son quite a bit—scales, sight reading, etudes, polishing piece, new working piece, and review is always expected. We can’t make our way through everything each practice so I just try to break up the tasks in such a way that we cover everything during the course of the week. For example, he has etudes that he has to work on and I usually break up the learning into one line a day until the whole etude is finished by the end of the week. And he knows that it’s just one new line per practice session so it’s not overwhelming. Maybe instead of doing 4 tonalization exercises at once you can do one per day and get to review pieces more quickly?

I do think doing 2-3 measures of something very hard in the new piece very well is ok for one practice. But that shouldn’t be the entire practice. The rest of the practice should be used to work on review pieces or work on sight reading or any of the assignments for the week.

Barb said: Oct 24, 2012
Barb Ennis
Suzuki Association Member
Cello
678 posts

Brooklyn,
Have you been given any ideas by those teachers or searched out some ideas on dealing with passive-resistant (passive-aggressive) behavior? That might be a good place to start.

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

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