Child Refuses to Perform

Katherine said: Apr 12, 2013
 
Suzuki Association Member
Violin
75 posts

Hello teachers

Just another question from a less experienced colleague!

I have built a studio of 9 children over the past 18 months. We do both private and group lessons (2 x per month).

We have increasingly had performance opportunities and we perform from the Suzuki repertoire as a group (some children may play solos, as appropriate to the event, and if they wish).

I have one child (age 6) who has some social anxiety, who pretty much refuses to perform (he has participated in one performance), and refuses also to bow with the group (when we practice bowing together as a group he just stands there). He also sometime refuses to play with the group in the group classes and runs off and does something else in the room (we meet in a media center that unfortunately has a lot of distractions). His mom is 100% OK with this and does not push or encourage him if he doesn’t want to.

He says he does not want to play in a performance b/c he is less advanced than the other children. (I only have the children play with the group to their ability level, obviously.) He is able to play the Twinkle variations and is able to play Lightly Row well enough to join the group if we play very slowly.

Should I be pushing/requiring him to perform, and bow? Should I just let it go and hope he will come around? What can I do to help him over this fear of performance (and even of bowing)? How can I help his parents help him? I am concerned that the longer he refuses to do it and does not get the experience the other children get, the more fear he will have instead of less?

Again, thank you in advance for reading this and for your suggestions and thoughts.

Susan said: Apr 12, 2013
 Violin, Viola
22 posts

I think there are two issues. First, if he really has the anxiety, I wouldn’t push it.
However, as we know observation is a powerful tool and even if he doesn’t want to play, he could still sit and observe. With my students, and I as well have had those who don’t want to perform, I would tell them that we would all do rest position, bow and then he could go sit down with his mom and watch. Here’s the second issue…being allow to do other things instead of group class. I would suggest that if there are quite things like coloring books or reading books, then he be allowed to sit in front of mom on the floor and do that while group class is going on. He would still be hearing and seeing the class.

There are some kids who just don’t want to play until they think they will fit in.
I think just being gentle and ask him if he is ready. Generally kids will tell you the truth. Just let him continue coming and observing and when he sees that his not playing is not as much fun as playing and he feels he can keep up, he may well just join in.

Barb said: Apr 12, 2013
Barb Ennis
Suzuki Association Member
Cello
678 posts

Would he participate with his mother if you involved parents in some part such as bowing?

I agree with Susan’s ideas, too.

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

Katherine said: Apr 13, 2013
 
Suzuki Association Member
Violin
75 posts

Thank you for you comments!!

I will continue to encourage as much observation as possible.

As far as bowing, his mother and I will bow together in private lesson and he will not join us.

I’m also planning on breaking down our group into 2 separate group lessons for a few lessons. With fewer kids he may feel more comfortable.

Rose Lander said: Apr 13, 2013
 
Suzuki Association Member
Violin
54 posts

hi,
i think you need to explain the advantages of performance to the child’s mother. there is no area in life when you do need to present yourself to others. the great strength of the suzuk method is in preparing children for life. performance teaches confidence, self esteem and hard work. if the child is not participating, he is missing out on a very, veryimportant part of the suzuki system. have you encouraged this mother to read suzuki motivational materials? the more the parents know, the better suzuki parents they will be.
this comes from the heart,
rose lander

Katherine said: Apr 13, 2013
 
Suzuki Association Member
Violin
75 posts

Rose—thank you. I purchased a subscription to Parents as Partners and have been showing videos during part of group lesson to the parents. I also give parents short things to read, from time to time, without over-whelming them. Only one of my parents has read Nurtured by Love. Do you or does anyone have any specific suggestions on short written or other material for parents that addresses performance specifically? Or value of observation? I agree I don’t think it is valued by the parent, and instead seen as an “extra” that would be nice but not central to the learning process for her child.

Sue Hunt said: Apr 18, 2013
Sue Hunt
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Violin
389 posts

I’d just relax. They all get there in the end. Participating in the group lesson is a start. It does look as if he is more focussed on the result rather than the process of getting there. There has been some fascinating research on this by Carol Dweck. The latest discovery has been that those who are results motivated, are more likely to develop a fixed mindset that you are powerless to improve on the aptitude that you were given at birth. Yes, that even includes some Suzuki kids who are praised for talent and perfection.

Since I have started to praise students for their hard work and focus, instead of for results, I have noticed that they have found it easier to rise to challenges, especially in performing.

Katherine said: Apr 18, 2013
 
Suzuki Association Member
Violin
75 posts

Thank you Sue. That is interesting b/c this child’s parent is the only parent who has ever asked me to move faster in the repertoire. I wonder if there could be a connection there. Not that the parent is generally pushy with me or the child but perhaps there is some unintentional pressure regarding results. The social anxiety (which certainly is connected to a fear of failing) is a huge puzzle b/c when the child is in his comfort zone his social behavior is pretty normal but when not it brings out withdrawal and very stubborn behavior. And I have a hard time gauging where the comfort zone is and how much or whether at all to try to encourage him to take risks.

Sue Hunt said: Apr 19, 2013
Sue Hunt
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Violin
389 posts

This is where praising hard work and focus comes in. From what you say, the parent’s focus is on results (moving ahead) and the child has lost confidence in his ability to deliver.

Paula Bird said: May 1, 2013
 
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Piano, Viola
Wimberley, TX
386 posts

I have recently had a similar experience with a 7 year old boy. He is quite a fearful child. He is such a perfectionist! I am not yet sure if this is a result of his relationship with his mother, although I strongly suspect that it is so. She is quite detail-oriented, as is her son, and she is quite skilled at finding things to improve. Unfortunately, her son has suffered as a result.

Recently we have been preparing for our spring studio recital in a month. Each week, my students practice their performance with the piano (I am also a pianist). We pretend to walk on stage, take a bow, get set up properly, perform our piece, and take a final bow while the parent and I applaud. By now, I expect that pieces have been memorized and polished.

Normally I have no problems, but in the case of this little boy, he refused to take a bow. I did not start this child; he was a transfer student when his first teacher moved away, so he has not been accustomed to taking a bow. I guess I never noticed, and I’m terrible about remembering to bow at every lesson, especially in the case of this little boy. He takes about 10 minutes of every lesson to “warm up” to the teaching environment. He is getting easier with it, but I do have to work carefully to encourage and nurture him.

He refused to bow during our recital practice. He said it was “too embarrassing” to bow. He finally relented with a head bob. After working with him a little bit more, he bowed slightly. Then I tried to encourage him to smile, as in “bend over, look at your shoes, then come up with a smile.” At that point, I could see that he was about to begin crying, so I gave it up.

A few days later, we addressed the problem during group class. There is an 11 year old boy in the class who is about 2/3rds of the way through book 1. My 7 year old boy, an early book 1 student, adores this older boy. Probably because the energy mix between the two boys is perfect. The older boy is very laid back, kind, and sweet. The older boy easily balances out the nervous, anxious energy of the 7 year old boy. So I put the 11 year old boy in the leadership role, and we had the group practice taking a bow and getting ready to play together. I asked the 7 year old boy to be our “monitor” or “patrol leader.” I cannot remember how I phrased it. I asked the 7 year old to watch the group and note if anyone did not bow at the same time as the group or was not paying attention and getting ready when the other group members got ready. The little boy did a great job of this, and the older boy was a terrific leader. He practiced all of these group things several times, and the little boy got to watch how easy the older boy was with the exercise and with bowing.

Never once did I ask the younger boy to take a bow.

At the little boy’s lesson the following week, we went through the recital practice routine again. The little boy walked into the room, promptly took his bow, played his piece beautifully, and then took another bow. I was delighted! Thanks to my older boy’s role modeling, my younger boy learned that it was safe to take a bow.

As a final note, I wrote to the mother later about how neat it was that we found a way to teach the little boy how to do this skill that the boy had been afraid to do. The mother’s response was: yes, the boy did the bow, but he also needed to remember to keep his bow on the highway and to hold the bow correctly. That’s when I realized that the mother may be a very strong cause of the boy’s fearful anxiety. I’ll have to keep working on this.

My point in this comment is that I found a way to role model and teach the desired behavior during a group setting. Group classes are perfect for this sort of thing.

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

Katherine said: May 1, 2013
 
Suzuki Association Member
Violin
75 posts

Paula—thank you so much for your detailed description of your excellent solution for your student. I do so agree that the group lessons provide so many opportunities for growth that private lessons alone cannot. I am hoping that over time observation of others and the group experiences will help this student overcome his fears as well although I have not figured out a particular strategy. Anything that picks him out from the group, such as giving him a special role, or puts any pressure on him regarding something he does not feel comfortable about (eg the bowing), does not seem to work for this child.

Katherine said: Aug 24, 2013
 
Suzuki Association Member
Violin
75 posts

Hello all—still dealing with this issue. The student is 7 yrs old now, I have been teaching him for more than one year. Not only does he refuse to perform with our studio group, but he refuses to attend (or the family chooses not to attend) performances of our group. He does come to many group lessons (although missed most of the summer group work). Is it reasonable for me to be a bit more pushy and say he MUST attend performances (unless he has a conflict), if just to observe? I feel it is inhibiting his progress that this element is missing from his work, as preparing for a performance is a great motivator.

Elise Winters said: Aug 25, 2013
Elise Winters
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Austin, TX
37 posts

Reading between the lines (your earlier posts & this one), it sounds like this mom has, on many occasions, preferred to do things “her” way. While collaboration / feedback is worthwhile, what you’ve got isn’t collaboration … it’s an undeclared decision not to participate in your studio the way the program is designed.

I think it requires a bit of finesse to alter an expectation that has already been established. I would—in a gentle, friendly but also frank way—reflect my observations & assessment to the mom. Don’t pull your punches; it’s a BIG deal that they’re blowing off your concerts!

If the family is declining to participate in your program in the way you require, you shouldn’t be left “guessing” about this. Be professional and kind, but clarify your expectations; educate / inspire / motivate the mom (e.g. the results she can expect to see if they follow your curriculum); AND be clear what is non-negotiable.

The family can say “yes” or “no” … but they need to be straight with you. If the answer is, “no,” are you are willing for them to have a different agreement from other students? In my studio, for an elementary-school student, attending concerts & group classes is non-negotiable.

Allowing the mom to “run the show” may be easier, but you will gain parents’ respect if you are prompt and assertive in dealing with infractions.

Specifically regarding the performance anxiety & related issues …

You might consider having the mom take a break from sitting in on lessons (group / individual—wherever the student is not fully engaged). It sounds like the mom’s expectations are reinforcing the student in his non-participation. Many students are much more infantile around their parents than with their peers or other adults … they enjoy being dependent / coddled, and their parents do not realize they’re being “played.”

Parents tend to be receptive to the separation as long as you say you would like to “try” this for a few lessons to see if it will make a difference in his participation / behavior. A few lessons are often enough to re-establish a new dynamic with you, where the child is acting in a more age-appropriate way.

Katherine said: Aug 26, 2013
 
Suzuki Association Member
Violin
75 posts

Elise—everything you say makes so much sense, and resonates with this situation, thank you. I think mainly the parent has decided to follow the child’s lead and allow him to decide what he will participate in b/c of his anxiety; perhaps additionally the mother herself anticipates situations that she thinks will make him anxious/panicked and avoids them. I am assuming this is b/c she feels this is what is best for her child, but it is contrary to my vision/program. I will be more clear with her that it is not negotiable whether he attend group performances or not, at this point (if he does not want to perform, OK). Thank you again for your feedback.

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