My 4 year old doesn’t want to practice/play anymore…

said: Sep 28, 2006
 3 posts

Our 4 year old son has been in the Suzuki violin program for close to a year. At first, he was ‘ok’ about practicing, but now tells us flat-out that he doesn’t want to ‘have violin lessons’ anymore and just will not practice, no matter what we do.

At the private/group lessons, he’s great. He does pay attention and has learned much. However, trying to get him to practice at home has been a major struggle. I’ve resorted to bribing him, rewarding him and even as low as ‘threatening’ him of ‘not doing something he’d like to do’ or ‘not playing with his favorite toy of the day.’ Then, whenever I can get him to get his violin even out of the case, he’ll play a little something and then say right away, “Am I done?” “Am I done NOW?” “How about NOW?”

Don’t get me wrong—I’ve totally stressed the importance of practice. I’ve tried to make it as fun as possible. I’ve tried to get him more interested in the violin—to no avail.

I’ve brought this up to his teacher, who basically told me I need to find better ways to practice with him (and yes, she’s given me tips/hints, but those don’t seem to work).

I’m seriously considering taking him out of the lessons right now and perhaps trying again when he’s older. The other thing is the cost—my husband is all over me, about how “our son doesn’t practice at all and we’re spending $XXX a month for the violins to just sit there…”

Any suggestions? I am thinking of pulling him—is there any shame in that, in ‘admitting’ that this just isn’t for him right now?

I’m really torn between continuing to ‘force’ him to do this and just ‘giving up’—that maybe the violin isn’t for him….

Thanks for your help/responses!!

Pam

Sarah Bradley said: Sep 29, 2006
 Violin
3 posts

I am the mom of a now six year old boy who started Suzuki at age 3 1/2. I think what is important to remember, (because it’s really easy to forget,) is that your son is still REALLY young. My son is still playing and it’s been a bumpy road. One thing I’ve held to is that we always practice. Perhaps you need to make the practice very short, five or ten minutes, and ideally do it twice a day. Let your teacher know that you are doing this, so her expectations are where they should be. I also highly recommend Edmund Sprunger’s book, “Helping Parents Practice.” Try to hang in there. If you do quit, there’s a message of failure sent to your son. Kids go through phases when it’s hard for us parents to work with them, and then it gets easier. Ride out the storm!

said: Sep 29, 2006
 Violin, Guitar, Flute, Cello, Viola
120 posts

I highly recommend you check out the website http://www.parentnewsetter.com. This is the website of Jeanne Luedke, a Suzuki piano teacher and now parent education specialist. On her website you should find some help. As a teacher I have been frustrated with this very same thing, only it was also happening in lessons, too, with a child of the same age. Jeanne recommends that we let a child learn at his own pace, and this simply means that you practice with your son ONLY as long as his concentration will allow. As soon as he gets fidgety, yawns, looks away, or asks if he is done, just end the session nonchalantly. You will find more information on Jeanne’s website, but the premise is that no matter what the reason, he is not capable of learning anything at that moment. After you do this, you will find that he no longer hates practicing, because he is not being kept there longer than his attention span can take, and gradually his concentration will increase. You may want to present this to your teacher and ask them to get on board with the idea, too. Another key ingredient is keeping his environment as enriched as possible during this time—extra listening to his CD is key. Your husband said, “the violinS just sit there”—do you also have a violin to learn along with him? If so, practice diligently, showing him YOUR enjoyment of practicing your violin. Your role modeling is extremely important to his success, too.

I am not purporting to be an expert on this. Jeanne Luedke just came to my area for a seminar, where this topic was discussed and I have read about it in her newsletters. The issue that talks about not keeping a child at practice or lesson longer than their attention span is from Volume One of Jeanne’s newsletters—specifically March of 1998.

I hope this will give you some help and food for thought. Good luck!

said: Sep 29, 2006
 3 posts

Yes, I also have a violin and I practice all the time, thinking that it would show my son that I’m having fun (which I am) and that it’s not ‘forever’ (I usually just practice myself for about 5-10 mins, so going over fingering and actually little tunes). When I’m happily playing my violin and I ask him if he wants to ‘play with me,’ he says “NO!” I tell him how much fun I’m having and all and he just doesn’t want anything to do with it.

I spoke with another mom of a 3 year old in our group and she says her son doesn’t practice at all at home either and that she figures “he’s getting 2 hours a week” with the group and private lesson. And she said she doesn’t really work with him at home that much at all, because he doesn’t want to do it, either.

I’m really torn—I’d like for him to keep playing, but it’s a serious struggle to try to get him to do anything at home. And…I’ve got my husband saying ‘it’s too expensive’ (which for us right now, it is).

It’s also very ‘difficult’ because he does pretty well (sometimes) at lessons and is learning the things that he’s supposed to…

I appreciate your responses!! Thanks so much!!

said: Sep 29, 2006
 3 posts

I DO keep the practices short—very short—but he’ll play one twinkle and then quickly say, “Am I done now?” It’s like he’s just doing it to ‘do it’ and he’s not even paying attention to what he’s doing—he just wants to get it over with!!

It’s very frustrating when I think he’s on a roll, where he’ll play a twinkle or two, and then anxiously ask, “Am I done NOW?!!?” I tell him, “No, let’s play another twinkle first..” and then he’ll grunt and groan, do it and then he’s in a big hurry to get done. To me, that’s NOT practicing.

I don’t know what else to do to make it fun!!! :(

Pam

said: Sep 29, 2006
 Violin, Guitar, Flute, Cello, Viola
120 posts

Thanks for clarifying about your own practicing and short practices. I think that’s great.

One of the things Jeanne said at her recent seminar was that the parent should practice on their own, but NOT ask the child if they want to, too. This is because you are simply role modeling. She even went so far as to say that IF your child asks to practice with you that you should reply, “Not right now. This is mommy’s practice time.” You should set up a separate time for practice with your child and not connect it to your own practicing. This is a new idea for me, too—but asking him to play one more Twinkle when he says he doesn’t want to is still keeping him there longer than necessary. As you said, he’ll rush through it, and he is NOT learning anything—this is not considered practicing. In effect, when we do this we are teaching them how NOT to concentrate.

I am really into this topic right now, because all last year I had a 3-4 yr. old student who absolutely refused to practice. The only experience she had on the violin was at lesson and group class. It was very much like the experience of the other mom you described. They ended up quitting in the fall this year. I have another student who seemed to be heading this way, but I think we may be able to turn it around using Jeanne’s ideas.

This is going to be a slow process for you—you shouldn’t expect it to turn around immediately. It may take several months, so I hope you and your husband will give it time, as you have already invested time and effort into the endeavor of Suzuki education with your son.

I hope you will keep in mind that the Suzuki method is a whole-child philosophy. This is an issue that’s larger than whether or not the violin is right for your son, but more about creating a desire to learn, how to develop skill, and perseverance.

As a teacher I was giving my parents all kinds of ideas on how to make practicing “fun” and interesting. After things were getting worse and worse, it clearly wasn’t about that. Believe me, this is a brand new approach for me, but I couldn’t be more excited about it. Just keep providing the correct environment for your son, make the practices even shorter, and discuss this with your teacher. If you like these ideas, present them to your teacher. They will very likely be very happy to hear about it and try it with you.

Debbie said: Sep 29, 2006
Debbie MiViolin
138 posts

When I was a child (3 and beyond), I used to cry and get mad at my mom for making me practice. There were even tear stains on my violin. She took the attitude of, “You are going to do this untill you are 16 and that’s all there is to it”. She did everything she could to make practicing fun (charts, bribes, games, short practices, etc.) Now, I love it, and am so glad that she did not give in to my desire to quit!!

I have a student, now age 6, who started at 3. He fought practicing a lot at first. He used to tell his parents, “When I grow up, I won’t make my kids take violin lessons!!!” We shortened his lessons to 10-15 minutes, backed up, and did not expect much. Just had him play a twinkle each time, eventually 2, and now we are back up to all the twinkles plus lightly row and Song of the Wind. Yes, it has taken 3 years to get to Song of the Wind, but he now happily and proudly plays all of his songs with beautiful technique and says, “I used to hate playing violin!”. He is moving more quickly and is able to handle more and is having fun. I am so glad they stuck with it!

Dr. Suzuki said, “Kids like what they can do” (or something along those lines). It is really true. If you can find a way to back up, have him just give concerts of the songs he does know a lot for relatives and friends, and somehow focus on celebrating what he can already do, he might start having more fun. You may already be doing this, so I don’t mean to say what you already know. This is just one thing that has sometimes worked for me with certain students.

Laurel said: Sep 29, 2006
Laurel MacCullochViolin
Langley, BC
120 posts

I am both a Suzuki teacher and Suzuki parent. One thing that I have found with my son (age 5), and with some students, is that during this first year (or more) the “point” of it is simply to establish a daily practise habit.

In other words—be happy with that one Twinkle! That is a LONG time for a 3-5 year old. He has developed the ability to stand still for a whole Twinkle! AND do fine-motor skills at the same time! Yes, it’s literally a minute, or maybe even 30-45 seconds—but he practised.

Maybe try not asking for more. In fact, I’d do the opposite—have that nice Twinkle, and then say something like “oh, we don’t have time for any more. Please put it away.” Reverse psychology? Probably. But it can work!

Do you have more than one time available during the day? You can get more Twinkles per day if he only does one at a time. One after preschool (or whatever morning activity)—one after lunch—one after snack—one “performance” while you’re making dinner—and one before bed.

I counsel my parents that if they are expecting a certain amount of time each day from their children, or even if they’re expecting to get everything done each practise time, they have placed a prerequisite on their children which gets in the way of their success. Perhaps your son senses this—whenever he practices, it’s never enough.

Another thought—few parents want to teach their children that if they complain enough they get to quit.

About your husband’s comments about $$$—yes, unfortunately this is our culture; we want value for money. It clashes, somewhat, with the Suzuki philosophy. Perhaps reiterate to him the benefits other than “being able to play the violin”—like the ability to work at something in little bits, to accomplish something bigger. Or what I mentioned before—being focused long enough to play a whole song(s)—can be especially hard for boys, and look what he is able to do!

Do you (or your teacher) play any games, like a card game or “fishing” or things like that?

Laurel

said: Sep 29, 2006
 5 posts

Well, when I was younger I didn’t practice vary much but I kept going to lessons and eventually I started enjoying it and played it more. Now I play in two orchestras and work vary hard to improve and I practice alot. But if it just seems like it won’t work, then maybe he can wait til middle school when hes a little older.

Violin, the instrument that holds my dreams, I pour my life into it and it becomes stronger, maybe one day I can be profesional.

Jennifer Visick said: Oct 1, 2006
Jennifer VisickForum Moderator
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Suzuki in the Schools, Violin
997 posts

There’s an article by Dr. Haruko Kataoka called “A Word to Parents about Practicing” which was published in the 1993 Fall issue of American Suzuki Journal. In it, she says….

There are five different kinds of students:

BEST: Listens to recordings and practices a lot

SECOND: Listens very well bu does not practice very much

THIRD: Practices but does not listen

Fourth: No listening, no practicing, but always comes to the lesson

WORST: The one who quits!

Please do not become the parent of the worst student. Do not make them quit. Ideally, the first is best but number four is also all right. Remember that it is OK to send them to lessons without practice. It is true that parents feel guilty when there has been no practice when they go to lessons. When I was a younger teacher I always made sure to say, “you have to practice”. I even dared to tell mothers to stop working and help the children. Then I became a mother and things did not work out as I had planned. It was God’s way to teach me…… [[she goes on but I won’t quote all of that here, but also says later in the article]]…. Now I tell parents it is OK not to practice—just don’t quit. There are about forty lessons a year. Each time students go to their lesson they will learn about the correct way of playing. They will learn the basics. In ten years they will have had 400 lessons, so no matter how you may be concerned now about how slow it is, they will progress. If you are patient, when they reach high school or college they will take over and want to play well and they will rapidly grow……

said: Feb 8, 2007
 1 posts

What other activities is your son involved with? I think often children are too over scheduled with pre-school, swim, violin, tumbling, dance and the list goes on. At four, they need to be allowed time to just be a kid and perhaps the violin might just be one too many obligations for him.

said: Mar 6, 2007
 1 posts

I can really relate to this! I started my 4-year-old back in August, and he is not showing much interest in playing the violin. He participates, but practicing at home is beginning to be a battle. I have tried all sort of things to make practicing fun, etc. This is the one thing I have noticed that helps. My son will practice much more willingly and happily if I have spent some quality time with him—one-on-one—AWAY from the violin. With 3 little children, my attention is divided—but giving him that little extra time makes him cooperate so much more for other things throughout the day- including violin.

said: Mar 11, 2007
 56 posts

In my own case, I handle(d) the motivation problem in 3 possible ways :

  1. (this is for the parent)The child may have some unhappiness in some areas in the home. Maybe he was hurt in some ways emotionally, maybe he felt ignored by the parent or he felt wronged in some ways. If so, the parent needs to sincerely have a 1-to-1 session with the child and ask what is the actual underlying reason. And if we really caused hurt to the child, we have to be brave enough to apologise to the child too. Resolve it and reconcile. Then look sincerely into the eyes of your child and communicate to him/her that you love your child, no matter whether he/she can or cannot play well. That your love is unconditional.

  2. Show the child the end result, let him/her see other advanced children play the instrument. Even better if they can attend concerts by more advanced players(preferably children). Let them visually see the end result so that they want to play. You can drag the horse to the trough, but nobody can make the horse drink.

  3. Maybe the child finds the technique difficult. If so, then we as parents must try to proactively find ways to break down the steps into more bite-sized steps. Let the child have small victories, so as to build up their confidence. Every mountain is achieved by taking small steps.

Just sharing some of my personal thoughts on this issue of motivation. Hope it helps. :D

Talent is not born, but created

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