Easily frustrated 6 year old

Nagaja Sanatkumar said: Mar 20, 2014
 Violin
6 posts

My 6 year old has been learning the violin for 2 years, and is now in Book 2. She has had to go through some ups and downs on re-learning improved technique from a second teacher (who is great). I'm diligent about facilitating practice every day. While we do have some good days, on most days she hates repetitions of exercises or songs and gets frustrated extremely easily (i.e. at the very first error). New songs are the only thing that motivates her. I'm at my wits' end coaxing, encouraging and scolding (yes, I know that doesn't help but I lose my temper at times!) her to work at something hard by breaking it down into smaller pieces. I've tried rewards, ensured optimal energy levels (right after a meal, in the morning etc.), let her jointly determine the week's/day's practice plan with me and read/used Ed Sprunger's ideas. I emphasize how mistakes are the conduit to learning and not something to despair at, but about 50% of the time, she is reduced to tears and/or defiance.

I really believe that learning to play an instrument is not just about the music, but also a life-long skill on working through challenges and building confidence. So I'm reluctant to let her quit. (She hasn't said she wants to quit, but I wonder if that's because she knows how I feel.) She gets a lot of praise for the effort that she puts in, but she still has a ways to go to produce consistent tone and rhythm quality. When she applies her mind and is in the right mood, she can play great. The challenge is getting her to focus on the task at hand, enabling that mood, and not having her be afraid to make mistakes.

Any tips on how to handle this situation better?

Courtney Morgan said: Mar 21, 2014
 Violin
Smithville, MO
9 posts

That could have been a description of me when I was six. I knew what was right but could not physically make myself do it without mistakes. I wanted to move forward but was holding myself back. I still have the same problem—I enjoy learning new things. I don't like repeating the old things unless it is my choice. Somewhere in my mid teens, I matured enough to realize the things I did not enjoy were a path to things I would, but until then I took my frustrations out on my parents, which had to have hurt them.

My parents let me quit the violin when I was eleven, and eighteen months later I went back and never complained again. I just took on an adult student who quit several times throughout her childhood and is now trying to move forward from Suzuki Book 4. Quitting does not necessarily mean forever, but there really is no way to predict whether or not it will mean forever to your daughter. It also is not ideal, since starting again (usually with a new teacher) often means taking a step or two back in terms of progress rather than picking up exactly where you left off. That equals more frustration, at the very beginning of the teacher-student relationship, which can weaken a leg of the Suzuki Triangle.

Have you talked to your teacher about some supplemental material? Something of the same level but outside Suzuki repertoire might help break the monotony. Also, mixing up practice is sometimes good. If you are timing sessions (rather than counting repetitions of an exercise), consider either breaking the session in half with a ten minute break in between or getting rid of the timer. When I used a timer, thirty minutes was unbearable. As soon as I got rid of it, my practice time jumped to two hours. See, the timer was something else I could not control, which added to my growing frustration of not being able to choose what to play. There are also plenty of books and games for parents to use with their kids at home that are coordinated with Suzuki. A good place to start looking for those things is the Shar website, under the Suzuki tab where it says "Parent Materials."

Nagaja Sanatkumar said: Mar 21, 2014
 Violin
6 posts

Thanks a lot Courtney! I will try the parent materials on Shar. And also discuss adding non-Suzuki repertoire (she loves holiday music and fiddle tunes, and is itching to start reading notes; we've been intentionally holding off on the latter). We don't use a timer at home, but rather try to get through the practice plan (current piece, prior piece, 3-4 review songs, 1-2 scales) with a general time limit of about 45 mins to an hour, because beyond that there's not much left to give emotionally from either of us.

Suzuki Mom said: Mar 21, 2014
 4 posts

I think you are describing us when my daughter is at six years old! She is almost eight but we still have days like that. Absolutely agree with you that this is a life-long skill. Our teacher couldn't stress enough about the important of group classes. We have classes twice a month. We have monthly recital. For our family, we go to the Summer Institute too. For the lessons, we now get to do rhythm work and reading. My daughter enjoys the new addition very much. At the group classes, we learn fiddle tunes too and the kids have fun.

The varieties of activities that we do help with our learning, I guess that is what I am trying to say here. There will be days we had to take a step or two back but generally this is part of what we do as a family. Once this is presented as a norm, we don't argue much, just smile and show respect which eventually should be mutual. I see the difference from being 7 years old too. She takes ownership more and is able to articulate what works and what's not without being too emotional. She could tell me to step back while she wanted to work on something on her own. I totally welcome that—no offense taken. Good to talk about "the practice" or "the lessons" when we are not in the thick of it. We made a list and shared with the teacher. Ask after a good lesson/session—what is working? (Or not working but I prefer to stick with the positive unless she brought up the not working part up.)

There is one book I read and re-read "How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk" by Adele Faber. It has helped me to understand the crazy dynamics of being a parent. I am still learning this dance, everyday.

Hang in there! Find the rhythm, the balance. I have friends asking me about finding a violin lesson for their kids when they heard about my daughter playing the instrument. The impression I got was that it would be another nice activity to do. They have NO idea that this is a HUGE commitment from any parents—their time and energy and the emotional and financial investment. For us, oh it is so worth it!!!

Gina Devirro said: Mar 25, 2014
 18 posts

Mother of 7 year old cellist here. I found the straight forward book "how to get your kid to practice without resorting to violence" by Cynthia Richards helpful. The author takes a pretty unflappable stance regarding tears, explains why they happen (it's common), what to do about them, and how much to expect (they lessen with age). You can be doing everything right and still have plenty of tears. Having said that, we've had to back off practice time, intensity, and difficulty of material, after having discussed the issue in private with her teacher. (yesterday's practice was only 15 minutes). Steady, real progress is still happening, and we are still laying down a solid foundation of technique because it is a quality, closely supervised 15 minutes. Obviously, we hope to increase the time once she reaches a new level of maturity. Also, I formed a small musical playdate club with another family. We get together once a month or so and have the girls perform their latest and greatest, then they go off and play.

Gina Devirro said: Mar 26, 2014
 18 posts

BTW Martin and Courtney, I enjoyed your posts and agree. Courtney, I couldn't find the parent materials on Shar. Maybe I'm just blind.

Gina Devirro said: Mar 26, 2014
 18 posts

thank you!

Anne Brennand said: Mar 26, 2014
Anne Brennand
Suzuki Association Member
Cello
Boulder, CO
39 posts

Gina, I think you are proceeding perfectly! If I could have had the loving guidance to practice about 15 minutes a day at the age of 7, that would have been such an advantage. I was raised in a more traditional way, not beginning lessons until 10 yrs. old, in the 5th grade. I see now, during my adult cellist professional life, the great disadvantage. Please know that any small increments of progress you are making during these early years will pay big dividends! —Anne

Anne Brennand, cellist and cello teacher

Nagaja Sanatkumar said: Mar 27, 2014
 Violin
6 posts

Martin and Gina—thank you so much for your comments too! I have been absorbing and internalizing them :). Love the play-date idea!

I also trolled through prior posts and realized that one thing I am consistently doing incorrectly is being too ambitious as a parent and trying to correct multiple things at the same time. This has overwhelmed my kid to the point of not wanting to hear even one correction from me. So definitely taking a step back and talking less, focusing on one point of technique instead of multiple, and adding more fun/variation to the routine are the common themes that I will be thinking about more actively!

Also just want to thank this community for such a wonderful and lively forum, this is my first time posting and you guys are super-helpful!!

Chantale said: Mar 27, 2014
 Violin, Viola
Orleans, ON
4 posts

I was also an easily frustrated kid. I was very (italics!!) sensitive, and disappointing my parents was the ultimate failure. That makes me sound like the sort of child who did everything I was asked… haha! Rather, my parents' disappointment stimulated my stubborn, rebellious streak, testing their love—will they still love me if I don't succeed, if I'm not perfect? Of course the answer is yes, but to a child that's not always evident. And how does a child know when they have succeeded? It's all so abstract. Mom knows when I got it right, but what was different that time and how am I supposed to do it? Frustration stems from wanting too much too soon, from putting too much pressure and weight on something that seems beyond our reach.

As a musican, and as a teacher, I try to keep things calm, relaxed and unencumbered by heavy emotions. I put the emphasis on my students' trying, above all, and when they succeed—by trying, they will for sure! we all forget that occasionally—I try to help them recognize that their continued efforts lead (past tense) to their succeeding with each small challenge. Make it clear that even if they don't get it right, today or tomorrow, you will still love them. I ignore some "undesirable" behaviours which will eventually simply disappear. I focus on the journey, on enjoying the sounds my instrument is making, on the feel of the bow on my string. I try to give my students fun "challenges", rather than things to "fix". We once upon a time learned to walk, we didn't "fix" our not knowing how to walk. Of course we do need to know what not to do, but we're learning and teaching our bodies, not deliberately disobeying. We can know what to do in our minds, but not know how to translate it physically. But it will come, with calm, "faithful" (I use the word in its non-religious sense, but perhaps you will in another) repetition and effort.

I hope this helps! Kudos to you for your efforts and stick-to-itiveness.

Gina Devirro said: Mar 27, 2014
 18 posts

THanks Anne, it's always good to get points of view from additional cello teachers and professional musicians.

Chantale, In my daughter I have totally seen her fear in disappointing me and her fear that I will no longer love her. Words just can’t seem to convince her otherwise. I have heard that part of the reason kids are more likely to act out as pre teens and teens is because only then are they fully secure in your love for them.

Learning for life, I think your instinct to back off is right on! In our enthusiasm to set up good habits from the start it is easy to overcorrect. I was really getting tired of hearing myself make corrections and it must have been far worse for her. It was not sustainable for either of us.
If you give someone a string instrument for the first time, they will do everything wrong. Pretty much all aspects of playing a violin or cello correctly are counterintuitive. Therefore, when starting out, you have a big lump of wrong. Because the human brain can only think about one thing at a time, you have to chisel away at it slowly, a little here, a little there. It’s really a marathon, and if you start out at a full sprint, you will be looking for the sag van at mile 3. By giving her just one good habit to focus on and celebrating when she makes it through to the end with that one thing in place, perhaps it will help lessen the frustration. If you give her two, acknowledge it is super hard to think about both at once, but that you want to see if she is up for the challenge. Sometimes I let my daughter pick one, and I pick the other. We made good habit cards with cartoons representing a habit. Sometimes we draw them randomly from a bag. Gradually we have been able to increase the number of good habits she can do at once, as they become part of her muscle memory. Her bow hold is the slowest and most stubborn, even though it was the very first habit we worked on!

Sue Hunt said: Mar 28, 2014
Sue Hunt
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Violin
391 posts

2 important things to remember.

•1 Praise for focus and hard work, rather than for talent and achievement. Kids who work hard have everything to gain by working harder. Kids who see themselves as talented, have everything to loose.

•2 Make really good notes of your teachers specific sequential instructions and carry them out at practice tempo, the speed at which they can not go wrong.

She may enjoy "Music in Practice," a new free practice app that's available in the App Store and on Google Play. It mixes your practice tasks with a few surprises to give a more focussed practice session.

Heather Figi said: Aug 29, 2014
Heather FigiViolin
Eugene, OR
96 posts

Hello—

First, you sound like an incredible parent with vision and fortitude. Stay focused.

We need to learn how to embrace challenge. It is the challenge that changes us. This lesson will serve your child for the rest of your life so again, I encourage you to stay focused.

Everyone shared such excellent points. I wanted to encourage you and also share the resource **Helping Parents Practice by Edward Sprunger.**

This book combines a mature Suzuki violin teachers experience with his training as a psychologist. It is highly organized. I can not recommend it enough. Available on Shar, Amazon and his website:

http://yespublishing.com/yespublishing.com/home.html

Please do keep us posted on this!

Sincerely,
HF

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