Parent restricting piano as punishment?!

Margy said: Mar 19, 2013
Margy Barber
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
34 posts

In 25 years I never had this happen til now. A parent emailed me (didn’t call first!) and said they would miss their lesson this week, as their child was having some obedience and behavior issues. Their 6 year old daughter it seems was putting piano above everything else. Child was “heartbroken” that she wouldn’t get to go to her lesson, but mom said hopefully next week she will be able to come back with a more willing and “happy heart.”

Obviously this made my Suzuki heart just sink. For one, most parents would be THRILLED that their child wants to practice non-stop. The issue in this case is that this very smart and very strong-willed child has learned how to manipulate her parents and goes to the piano when she is told to do something else. She truly looooooves piano but has decided to use it as a manipulation.

A power struggle is clearly at play between them, I just wish the mom would have called me before she threw down the punishment. I would have loved to work with mom and child in lesson to address this all together. Instead, I fear the child will now believe that the piano lesson is something negotiable…when that time comes where practicing is a bit less fun and more work, she now will think she can act out and get to skip her lesson. I have asked mom to reconsider and hope to discuss this further with her.

I have my parents all do extensive reading as part of their training to help them understand the nurturing philosophy..it seems I need to assign some follow-up! And encourage this parent as they clearly are finding themselves desperate in trying to manage a strong young lady!

Ever had this happen?

James said: Mar 19, 2013
James Guerin
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
27 posts

These incidents make me think of the tendency some parents may have to see lessons as a gift they give their children. The motivated student in their mind is “given” the privilege of receiving lessons. I reflect that this is in some sense true in the first months of learning, so there is no point in my talking to parents at first, but when the student starts showing ownership of playing and a true musical drive, I should have a talk with the parents about playing an instrument as being the student’s nature, not a gift. I would try to emphasize that the student’s relationship to music is his and his alone, and that as parents and teachers we can assign how much time they can spend but not treat the drive as something we can take away from them. Thanks for your post!

Barb said: Mar 19, 2013
Barb Ennis
Suzuki Association Member
Cello
678 posts

Yes, thank you for your post, should others of us run into this… and thank you jimmykeys for sharing your insight!

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

Heather Reichgott said: Mar 24, 2013
Heather ReichgottPiano
South Hadley, MA
95 posts

In high school I used multi-hour piano practice sessions to avoid doing my government homework all the time. Good thing I didn’t grow up to be a government homework doer.

Seriously, what you describe is very sad. Sometimes parents want to discipline their children well, but they don’t understand the difference between taking away a luxury as punishment (tv etc.) and taking away something that is of true importance to the child’s life. Hard to imagine a parent punishing a kid by taking away the “privilege” of attending her favorite teacher’s class at school…

Alexandra said: Apr 3, 2013
Alexandra Jacques
Suzuki Association Member
Violin
Mesa, AZ
35 posts

Well, the good news is if the student was really upset about that punishment, that means they really love lessons. That means you’re doing a good job, right? Haha! (I’m kidding.)

In all seriousness, this is a sad situation. I’m not a parent, but it seems to me that it’s not a good idea at such a young age. Parents will often take away other privileges like TV, video games, playing outside, and I don’t agree with putting music lessons on the same level as those other activities, because it might lead the child to think that music is less important as they get older. It’s a privilege, yes, but unlike TV and all of those other things, they are also learning and growing from it, and it should be an important part of their lives regardless of their behavior.

I haven’t had this happen with any of my students yet, but when I was growing up, I did have friends whose parents would take them out of lessons or other extracurricular activities (usually temporarily) if they weren’t doing well in school. I agree with it in this situation, when the students are older, because I can understand that they need to focus on school, their first priority, if their grades are slipping and other activities are preventing them from making school their first priority. But when they’re older, they can understand that their other activities are still important, and they are more motivated to get their grades up to start doing music lessons again. A young student seems much more likely to get the wrong message, though.

I did have one student that was having behavior problems in school, and her parents were debating whether to keep her in lessons, and decided to continue because lessons were good way for her to practice focusing, listening, and following directions. If an opportunity arises, you may want to tell the parents that having her stay in lessons is a way to reinforce good behavior, but that all depends on if they are open to taking that advice. Good luck, I hope it all works out!

Margy said: Apr 11, 2013
Margy Barber
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
34 posts

Well, it just happened again…for a couple weeks the child improved behavior at home, but this week was apparently rough and the parent emailed that they could not do lessons today as a result. I have tried all the suggestions above, gave them a book on discipline, and this time even suggested they at least come to the lesson but use the 30 minutes as a “home practice” time where I would make no comment but take notes on the lesson. She and her husband discussed it and turned me down.
I feel this is a punishment now for the teacher and themselves as parents more than for the child…they are paying for lessons that they aren’t receiving, and I am losing that momentum that is so vital with week to week lessons with a 6 year old, and I have a waiting list of students hungry for a time spot! My gut wants to tell this family that if they cannot figure out a way to discipline their child other than skipping piano practice and lessons, I must release them from my studio. And yet, I know they would just turn that around onto the child when they got home: “Did you hear your teacher? If you don’t act better at home she will quit teaching you!” Thus I would punish the child for her parents’ unusual decisions.

This is boggling. Most families would be thrilled that their child loves to practice! I don’t know what to do next.

Barb said: Apr 29, 2013
Barb Ennis
Suzuki Association Member
Cello
678 posts

Margy, that’s tough.

I thought of this discussion when I read the post by “Clemzilla” who happens to be a professional cellist now) on a cello forum: http://cellofun.yuku.com/topic/15770?page=2
His parents took his cello away as discipline for having signed up for the school program by forging his mother’s signature, but the music teacher talked them into changing the punishment … but he tells the story so much better than that!

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

Lori Bolt said: Apr 30, 2013
Lori Bolt
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
San Clemente, CA
226 posts

Hi Margy ~ obviously the parents’ discipline strategy is not working. No doubt this little 6-yr. old is building resentment toward them which only adds to the problem.

If I were you I’d consider a heart-to-heart talk with Mom (& Dad?), telling them how you see things as a teacher in this situation. Invite them for a cup of coffee. Affirm their desire to develop their child’s character and to correct her disrespectful behavior before you say anything else….ask what you can do to help as a member of the Suzuki Triangle. But remain firm to your own convictions in a kind way. There must be something other “luxury” they can withhold from their daughter—help them brainstorm. Be sure to mention the things their daughter does well on the piano, and the character building & life skills being learned as she takes lessons.

I haven’t faced this problem yet. Good luck!

Lori Bolt

Cleo Ann Brimhall said: Apr 30, 2013
Cleo Ann BrimhallTeacher Trainer
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
West Jordan, UT
39 posts

My experience with this is—In my studio was a young (maybe 12/13) girl who was doing great and loved piano. She got into trouble and was heading into more trouble. The parents could only thing of taking away something she really loved, which was piano. I literally begged the parents not to do this. I convinced them that the piano was actually the only thing that would really help. They consented to keep her in my program—she became a model student at piano and at school. She is graduating from the University this fall in piano performance and currently has a good job at a high school in their group piano program.

I also had a young man in program who the parents were going to send to Arizona to live with his aunt—to get him away from the terrible environment that he had gotten into. He was resigned (even thinking it was a good idea) to the fact, but begged to stay until he had performed in the piano festival that was coming up. He now has good friends and is music his own way—had a band and is composing music.

Parents need to be educated that students—especially students who love music—will benefit so much—their must be another disciplinary action that they can take for serious problems.

Cleo

Anne said: Nov 24, 2013
Anne SanchezPiano
9 posts

I agree to a point with the comments here, but we must also remember that the discipline that is chosen by parents, is their choice. We can offer advice, but when they turn our advice down, we also need to make sure we don’t offend them. If we offend parents, then they will cut out music altogether. Be very careful with how you approach parents about discipline, some do not recover from that, if it’s not done correctly.

I played piano through elementary and high school and I loved it. My parents would take away those lessons if my behavior wasn’t appropriate, which wasn’t very often. My grades were slipping, because I had sports, music lessons, work, and school. I would also use “practicing” for hours to manipulate in order to get out of chores and homework. The first thing that went was piano lessons, because it was something my parents paid for and it was a luxury. My piano teacher approached them with the same attitude you did, one she thought was being helpful, but it offended my parents. They cut out music lessons all together.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t approach them with a helpful attitude, but be very careful once they reject that help. I would tell those parents that you have other children that can be worked into that time spot and if they cannot bring their daughter to the practices, then you will have to stop working them. it’s a hard situation, but if you have tried to no avail, you probably won’t change their minds.

Renee Shaw said: Nov 27, 2013
Renee Shaw
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
19 posts

As a student I frequently had lessons taken away for perceived misbehavior. Looking back now, there was much more to it then that, due to a very unhealthy family dynamic, however it led to great resentment towards my parents for not appreciating something that I loved so much and worked so hard for. Practices, lessons, recitals… all of these were at my parents’ mercy and the consequences of those choices are still felt in our relationship. I would be afraid this is sentiment your student is experiencing now, because it is something that can really fester with time and is something that will likely only transfer to another activity should you release this family from your studio.
I hope they can find more productive discipline methods so that you can return to your job. The student’s love for your program is a great testament to your work!

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