Students who won’t let parents help

Robyn said: Oct 9, 2007
Robyn BauerViolin
18 posts

I have a couple 5-year old students that work incredibly well with me in lesson: I can reach over and fix things without protest, and they are perfectly happy. However, whenever they work with the parent, in lesson or at home, they do NOT want to be touched! They have the “I want to do it myself” attitude and will wrench themselves away from the parent’s touch. The parents have gone through training, and I believe they know what they are doing when they try to help, but the students will put all their energy into resisting! I try to ask the student to allow the parent to assist, which helps a little, but I don’t want to have to ask every time. Does anyone have any recommendations for things I can do in lesson and/or suggestions for the parent?

Heidi said: Oct 9, 2007
Suzuki Association Member
33 posts

Ask the child to allow parental assistance every time.

Until he or she gets it.

Kids need training, too.

Laura said: Oct 9, 2007
358 posts

Explain clearly to the children what their parents’ job really is: to help you remember what you learned at the lesson, and to help you practice at home, which is something you can’t do by yourself yet.

Explain that you expect them to let their parents help. Then devote part of each lesson to having the parent actually help them in front of you—in other words, after you have assisted them with something, you can say “Now let’s do the same thing but with Mom instead of me.” Then you can say, “There, now that’s how you and your Mom are supposed to practice together at home.” Having the expectations reinforced by the teacher will be helpful, so the children will know that the standard is consistent.

I suspect there is a bigger problem at play, on the level of the children’s overall relationship with their parents—that is, less than respectful or cooperative. I can understand kids going through an indepedent phase, but having been taught proper behaviour should preclude most full-blown cases of resistance.

I have 1-2 kids like that, and I’m constantly hinting to the parents that their children have too much power over them. They openly resist their parents even during their lesson! That’s likely the root of the problem.

Rachel Schott said: Oct 10, 2007
Rachel SchottViolin
Harrogate, TN
127 posts

Ed Sprunger’s book “Helping Parents Practice” addresses this very issue. In a nutshell, his opinion is that it isn’t as important for the children to ’save face’ in front of the teacher as it is in front of the parent. He believes that deep inside, it is very VERY difficult for a child to make a mistake in front of the parents. So, they try to avoid the correction as a way of avoiding the realization that they are not perfectly loveable in the eyes of their parents.

You really MUST read this book and suggest it to your parents. His educated and personable style is much more clear than my late night muddling.

Good luck!

Laura said: Oct 11, 2007
358 posts

Having read Sprunger’s book (it’s a gem! Everyone must read this), i agree that is also a possibility. I think it’s important to try to understand the relationship between parent and child, perhaps by some sensitively probing questions, or perhaps simply by observation.

I’ve had both types: kids whose parents have too-high expectations (nagging and jumping on every little thing that’s wrong with their child’s playing), and kids who walk all over their parents and don’t know where to draw the line in terms of behaviour.

Based on the original description (the kids “put all their energy into resisting”), I was leaning more towards the possibility of a behaviour/attitude problem. Let me explain: some kids are used to getting their own way with their parents, by whatever means necessary. Asserting, arguing and resisting, leaving the parents to “respond” by negotiating, convincing, and compromising, may be a normal relational pattern for them. In these situations, it’s the kids who have control over the parents, instead of the other way around. I see it all the time—not just over music lessons, with kids in general—and the parents often even acknowledge it as they vent out their frustrations.

Now, the root of this type of problem has many factors and isn’t necessarily as black and white as the parents not being strict enough. It could have a lot to do with children lashing out for attention they don’t receive enough of, parents feeling guilty or overly enamoured by their children, etc. But it’s a behaviour problem just the same, and one that needs to be addressed by a change in parenting approach. While Western culture does promote independency, original thought, etc., (which is a good thing), it shouldn’t preclude children being raised with basic social courtesies, such as being able to respectfully respond to and learn from parents, teachers, and others who are there to guide and nurture them.

If it truly is a situation of the kids subconsciously trying to earn their parents’ love (as suggested by Rachel), I find that such kids might not be so deliberate in their efforts to thwart a situation. You might notice that their behaviour stems more from themselves and their own reaction, and not necessarily so directed outwardly at their parents, teacher, or whatever. For example, they might be more giggly, fidgety, pouty, or just apprehensive about being touched, etc. But when I hear that they literally put all of their energy into resisting their parents, I smell a behaviour problem, over an insecurity problem.

Not to suggest that I know one way or another. Rachel actually brought up a really good point that should be explored. Overall, Arioso, since you know the families personally and we don’t on this forum, your observations will be more accurate :) Try to find out which type of problem it is, and that will help you to help the parents better.

Robyn said: Oct 15, 2007
Robyn BauerViolin
18 posts

I think it’s primarily a behavior/attitude problem. I definitely see it in the general parent/child interaction, not just with violin. Hopefully I can be more specific to the student about what the parent’s job is and to the parent about how to do it! Thanks so much for all your responses!
PS—I have Ed Sprunger’s book and I LOVE it. It sounds like I could stand to read it again and take notes this time!

said: Sep 6, 2008
 3 posts

I would be careful making judgments about the quality of someone’s parenting.

Laura said: Sep 7, 2008
358 posts

Agreed—that is going beyond the boundaries of music lessons, and most parents wouldn’t take to it too kindly, particularly since we don’t always know what goes on at home anyway.

However, we as teachers do tend to form our own form of close relationship with the students (can you name many other situations in which a young child has a non-related adult’s undivided attention for 30 or more minutes, every week, over the course of several years?). We are in the position to observe things that can be pretty close to an accurate picture. And because we are supposed to form an effective teacher-student bond, it does help to have some idea of the bigger picture between parent and child.

Even if I wouldn’t say it outright, I see nothing wrong with “assessing” a situation for myself, so that I can handle it as a teacher as best I can. Each kid needs to be dealt with differently, depending on a set of factors that are uniquely their own. Bad parenting CAN be one of these factors—it would be naive to consider otherwise. For example, a child who is rude and insolent during lessons, and then turns around and whines and backtalks to the mom, and the mom just takes it and offers candy to appease the child until they can get their coats on to leave—and I mean this is a regular type of behavior—this is hard not to “judge” as a bad parenting situation. And it affects me as a teacher, because how am I supposed to teach anything to this kid who so clearly doesn’t even respect his mom, who should have the MOST effective influence on her/him? In such a situation, I have to spell out what the rules are during lessons with ME, and I can’t help but throw in a little something on the side such as, “And I bet your mom would appreciate if you helped her by following these rules at home too”—with a big “hint, hint” in the mom’s general direction. I would genuinely hope that would not be regarded as overly judgemental.

Also, in their frustrations, parents often ask for my opinion anyway. I am only a music teacher, not a parenting expert, and that is not my role. But we’re all doing our best for the sake of a child. If a parent is struggling with their child, we have to do our best to be helpful facilitators. I know of no frustrated parent who vents WITHOUT hoping to hear some sort of magical insight or advice that might help the situation. So if I end up pointing out something however indirectly, it’s usually in the context of the parent really needing to hear that, and they even tell me so after the fact.

Humility is the key. As teachers, we need to be humble enough to acknowledge that each child we teach is a unique individual and therefore a new experience, and to seek the best way to reach THAT child, regardless of how many other children we have taught in our years of “experience”. As parents, we need to be humble enough to continually seek better ways to parent our children, particularly if dealing with an obvious challenge. The Suzuki triangle provides an opportunity for all of this to happen together.

Robyn said: Sep 9, 2008
Robyn BauerViolin
18 posts

Oh my, I would never think to go ordering the parents around! I am no child psychology expert, and don’t have children, myself. What I did (and I think it worked) was tell the child exactly what the parent’s job is for each task. Sometimes, there were tasks the girl was permitted to do by herself…other times I made it clear that “I would like your mom to help you on this one by…..” As long as that was part of the assignment, there seemed to be little objection. I would also follow up the following week by asking how the cooperation went. Now, the behavior phase is gone and they get along wonderfully…just the other day she went to her mom and asked for help so she could surprise me with her great bow hold!

Laura said: Sep 9, 2008
358 posts

Oops—I realize based on Arioso’s reply that perhaps I used some incorrect wording in my previous post. Arioso, I completely agree wtih you in that I would never order parents around!

I’m so sorry for the confusion. So perhaps I should clarify.

What I meant to say was that sometimes it is very apparent that a child has little sense of respectful or obedient behavior, likely stemming from the parent’s permissiveness which is just as obvious. For example, the child may hit, throw tantrums, respond rudely, or run away during lessons, and the parent says or does nothing. Or, if the parent does say something, it has no effect whatsoever on the child, who continues to “control” the situation with his/her misbehavior. And I’m not just talking about an off day or a particularly expressive or touchy child. I’m talking about something that is very obvious and ongoing, week after week. This is an exceptional situation—most children are not as bad as this. But it does happen.

All I am saying is that in such a situation, I have to make sure that the child listens to ME, even if he/she is not listening to the parent. This accomplishes two things: 1) that I have rules that need to be followed so that we can conduct the lesson nicely in my studio (e.g. you are not allowed to run away while I or your mother are trying to help you) 2) that it is possible to get this child to respond, so hopefully the parent might get an idea of what might work at home.

I have relatives who are public school teachers. They tell me that sometimes when we establish rules with children, it may very well be the first time they have been required to actually follow any. Or it may be the first time that someone has taken the effort to tell them “No, that is not allowed.” (And I mean in a manner that results in a change in behavior from negative to positive. Ineffective yelling or nagging doesn’t count.) This is what I meant about the existence of bad parenting—it does happen. But we then find ourselves in the postion of having to teach these children.

So the intial situation described in this thread was about a student who appeared (based on the teacher’s assessment) to be too disrespectful to the parent, such that that he wasn’t letting the parent help him practice. If a disrespectul relationship with the parent is the barrier to learning, then we as teachers need to help the parents remove that barrier. It has to be done graciously, respectfully, encouragingly—and for the most part, VERY indirectly. Never judging or criticizing parenting skills, never telling the parents what should or should not be done, or anything like that.

I speak so candidly on this topic because I have had my share of behaviorally-challenged students. And it is challenging to me as a teacher. Over the weeks, months, and years of watching them with their parents, even during those little snippets of time before and after the lesson, I have noticed a common thread: students who misbehave with me are even MORE likely to misbehave with ther parents. And those children who I have a hard time “controlling” seem even more “uncontrolled” with their parents. On the other hand, the children who really seem to be a joy to teach are more likely to have a very healthy relationship with their parents. When we require—in Suzuki— parents to work so closely with their children, we cannot turn a blind eye to that part of the equation.

We can choose not to SAY anything about it directly, which I believe is wise. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t choose to DO anything about it by our own demonstration.

Laura said: Sep 10, 2008
358 posts

Oops again! I now realize that Ariosa was the original poster! Sorry about that.

I’m glad to hear that your problem has worked itself out. It’s always a nice feeling when everything goes back to being okay again after a challenging spell, isn’t it?

It sounds like your student/parent combo is closer to being on the normal side (normal challenges, relatively responsive to solutions). Thank you for sharing what worked—sounds like you did the right thing.

What I was talking about describes a more extreme situation, and I’ve had more than my share of those! So please don’t take what I said as anything directed personally at you. :)

Meg said: Sep 11, 2008
Meg Lanfear
Suzuki Association Member
Oak Park, IL
36 posts

Purple Tulips,

You write very well and I understand entirely what you are saying. Dealing with these kinds of issues was addressed very little in all of the training I have had. It was surprising to me that I would deal with these very things so often in my teaching. I would love to see you publish an article in the journal about this very topic!
Thanks for the thoughtful responses!

Robyn said: Sep 11, 2008
Robyn BauerViolin
18 posts

Thanks, everyone, for your help on this! Having no younger siblings or babysitting experience, I often feel a little lost when it comes to behavior issues. I’m happy the way things turned out, but I know this won’t be the last time I encounter something like this! Even now, I’ve got a different 4-year old who is very clearly pushing at the boundaries of appropriate behavior! I agree with MegLanfear…I would love to see PurpleTulips share her experiences and advice on (loving) discipline in a Journal article!

Laura said: Sep 13, 2008
358 posts

Thank you, Ariosa and MegLanfear for your encouraging words on a rather discouraging topic. It was reassuring to hear that I wasn’t appearing that “judgmental” after all :)

My first “problem” student was truly a challenge, and I had much less confidence and insight into how to deal with it. Since then, every next “problem” student is no less a challenge, but troubles me less overall as I have seen how these “problems” can be “solved”.

You are right—it is becoming more of a reality to be encountering poorly behaved children in any teaching situation these days. We need to have ways to learn from and support one another, so that we can continue to develop our teaching skills—out of love for the children. Glad to have this little online family in that regard!

said: Feb 8, 2009
 36 posts



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