“Johnny Has a Will of Iron”

Matthew said: Oct 20, 2012
Matthew Olson
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Bellingham, WA
16 posts

I would appreciate any advice anyone has that I can share with this parent!

“Johnny has a will of iron.

“I’m not sure if you know this about him. I really need help with home practice both technically as well as psychologically.

“Today it took three and a half hours to get Johnny to do one of the assignments. We started practicing at 10:00 and didn’t “finish” until quarter to one. He has a will of steel. The routine we have is: breakfast, brush teeth, get dressed, practice violin and then play. But he point blank refused to do one of the assignments. So…he spent a lot of time in his room, sitting on his bed as he refused to participate appropriately—finally he actually got into his bed and informed me that he was “too tired” to continue. I gave him a hug and told him I thought he was very wise to know when to rest and left him in his room to do just that. He stayed there for over 30 minutes before he was ready to “try again” and then refused—again. SO frustrating We do have all day though- if this is how he wants to spend it but I cannot let him refuse.

“He also talked to me very specifically about how “it is just not fun to practice with you Mommy. It is fun with our teacher but not with you.” I asked him what I can do to be more fun like our teacher and he just shook his head sadly and said “nothing”. I said that at our next lesson I would pay extra close attention to how our teacher does things so I can be more like him and Johnny said, rather plaintively “but Momma, you are at our teachers house with me already, aren’t you paying attention?” I said that perhaps I was concentrating more on what he, Johnny was doing and not enough on what our teacher is doing.

“Taking violin and practicing are not optional. I think it is totally inappropriate for him to say he doesn’t want to practice and for me to say “okay”. I’m sure that this is so hard because hither to we rarely practiced but that had to change. This is what I was afraid of and so I was just being a chicken about it. However I see—with most of his behaviorisms as he gets older that I must become more strict, not less or I will have a real nightmare on my hands by the time he is five.

“I admire his will but oh-my-god it is exhausting. However, I have more stamina than he does and as I kept telling him today, “Johnny, I know you can do this”—he can and he will. I know I sound crazy. I feel a little crazy. Any suggestions you have are welcomed.”

Laura said: Oct 21, 2012
Suzuki Association Member
Stanton, MN
25 posts

My suggestion is to try to interpret the opposition and stubbornness as a message that “this is hard.” It might not be the particular instrument skill that is hard, but might be a number of other things. It might be a vestibular issue, that the child has a hard time standing tall because it challenges his balance (you might not see this, unless you know the clues). He might have a hard time with his audio processing, thus he doesn’t want to practice, because he hates to make mistakes and it takes an enormous amount of energy to get recall the sounds. It might be a tactile issue that he doesn’t like the feel of the strings under his fingers. Perhaps it’s a muscle tone issue, etc. He might be able to verbalize these things if asked the correct questions, or he might not.

I’d do some reading on raising strong willed children. Both from the lens of parenting a strong willed child, who doesn’t have any extra struggles. Mary Sheedy Kurchinka has a book “Raising the Spirited Child.” I’d recommend reading this book and see how your child responds to some parenting suggestions. I’d also read some books from the lens of some sensory integration issues, adhd issues, food allergy issues, etc. Two books I recommend are “The Out-Of-Sync Child,” “Without Ritalin” and lso the website for the Handle Institute.

It sounds like this is a child with a strong dose of determination that could serve him wonderfully in life to persevere through life’s struggles. This must be, what he sees, as one of life’s struggles that he doesn’t think he can succeed at, so he’d rather not attempt. I’d ask what makes this so hard for him. If you can answer this, you have a way forward. It sounds like he might have already given you the answer (”This makes me so tired”). Consider that at lessons, he is on hyper-alert status, as we all are when we are put on the spot. We often step up and perform wonderfully when put under pressure. There must be something that he can overcome for a half hour lesson once a week, but not on a daily basis at home in a less pressure situation. I’d see the stamina he shows as a wonderful strength, but perhaps he has to utilize it more often than he should, because of whatever is making this difficult for him.

Barb said: Oct 22, 2012
Barb Ennis
Suzuki Association Member
678 posts

Ed Sprunger’s book addresses the issue of teachers are not parents (thus the child responds differently). Helping Parents Practice.

If this is just about ONE assignment (not whether or not to practice), I would suggest, if all other things have failed, the parent say something to the child like, “I will tell Mr. Olson that you did not practice this assignment this week so he can help us to get ready to practice it later,” rather than make it a battle of wills. Maybe it needs to be broken down into smaller steps?

To add to Laura’s suggestion that it is a message that, “this is hard, and I don’t want to fail,” it might be a case of, “in your [the parent’s] eyes.”

I wonder what would happen if the parent said to the child, “I can see you’re not ready to work on this with me. Why don’t you try it by yourself for two minutes.” And leave the room for just two minutes. Might be worth a try?

Music Teachers Helper—for individual teachers
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Caitlin said: Oct 22, 2012
Caitlin HunsuckViolin
Merced, CA
41 posts

When I teach my students, sometimes I have problems with them concentrating enough to fix the “problem.” For example, not circling on “Song of the Wind,” or not keeping a their bow tilt etc. For ALL my students this simple game has worked: Teacher Eats Your Chocolate.

How to Play: Find a something that needs to be practice or fixed. ONE item only. (ex. play five Var A rhythms correctly). For every repetition, you child gets one chocolate chip (or m&m, mint, etc) before he plays (do not EAT, they are just his). If he messes up, you get to eat one chocolate. No fuss, just eat it the moment he doesn’t do it correctly. At the end, he gets what is left over (eat it now, end of lesson, after lunch, it’s up to you!)

I have YET to eat one of my student’s chocolates. Once they own the chocolate, they will do everything in their will power not to let you have it. You can do it for almost everything. For the violin hold, I put little rubber things on their violin, and give them a time. If a rubber falls off, I eat a chocolate. For bow tilt, I have them play Var A 5 times, and if the tilt is wrong on a repetition, I eat a chocolate. I use it to do long bows in Chorus, staccatos in Allegro. EVERYTHING.

I would recommend for you, have your teacher introduce the game. Then have her tell little Johnny that he will no longer practice at home. Just play this game with you (make sure to bring her a bag of chocolate chips!).

I had a student (age 4) who was successfully playing until we hit Andantino. Then his tone went bad on the lower strings. He plays this game at home with Mom everyday. Its been 3 weeks… HE SOUNDS WONDERFUL NOW! I hope this helps you. After a bit, you student will do what you ask without the reward of chocolate. This game breeds ability in a fun way. Ability breeds desire to play.

Matthew said: Oct 28, 2012
Matthew Olson
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Bellingham, WA
16 posts

Thanks, I’ll pass these great ideas and suggestions on to the parent!

Elizabeth said: Oct 29, 2012
Elizabeth K20 posts

Matthew, here’s another idea to add to the mix…

It sounds like her child likes music, and you, his teacher: two very big wins. But the parent and the practice know-how is missing. And it sounds pretty awful.

Even the phrase, “having a will of iron,” reads more to me, “he’s not doing what I say and that annoys me.” He hasn’t even reached the age of 5 and he’s practicing an assignment for 3 ½ hours?! My guess? There’s not a whole lot of good practicing going on in there. It sounds stressful, negative, and it’s damaging their relationship. You can only beat a child into submission for so long before they 1) lash back 2) lose their light and love for music 3) resent you 4) all of the above and quit completely.

How about getting the parent and child to describe in full detail how practice is done at home, beginning to end? And have them do this away from each other, with a one on one conversation with you. Ask what the parent says to initiate practice, what they say during the practice, the words the parent uses when the child doesn’t get the song right, and how both of them feel after the whole thing. All of that is vital to answering this question the way it deserves.

Practice for Parents Helping You Help Them

Sue Hunt said: Oct 30, 2012
Sue Hunt
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Violin
389 posts

To me, a point blank refusal is a sign that the child is overwhelmed. It could be that he felt that the assignment was just too difficult. I like Barb’s idea of talking it over with the teacher. Having a battle over it won’t help anyone.

Chunking it down and making a lucky dip game works well. He will probably think that he is choosing what to practise, even if you sneakily repeat some of the practice tasks more than once. It’s also fun to add some silly tasks and challenges to refresh his brain and body. Try the 6 free easy practice games on the home page of Music in Practice with their activity cards and practice advice.

Paula Bird said: Oct 30, 2012
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Piano, Viola
Wimberley, TX
386 posts

I ask parents with problems to record the practice, audio or film. Usually the problem goes away because the parent is really NICE on the recording. Sometimes I see an issue that has nothing to do with the parent.

One of parents recorded a practice without telling the child that it was recorded, and the practice went really well. Imagine that! The mother was surprised, but I wasn’t.

Listen to a recording. A lot will be figured out then.

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

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