4-year-old with attitude

Grace said: Jun 20, 2008
110 posts

I have a 4-year-old student who has been increasingly rude to me during lessons. She is a younger sister of another student, so she has been coming to my house since she was an infant and is very comfortable (TOO comfortable!) with me. (Her older sister is actually very sweet to me, BTW.) One thing is that she has been attending full-time daycare this past year, so she has probably picked up some bad habits from there.

I think it is just sad to hear these things coming from a 4 year old:
- “I already KNOW that!” (when I tell her to bend her pinky, fix her posture, etc.)
- “Don’t help me!” (when I try to move her bow the right direction)
- rolling her eyes, heavy sighing

What do you do with that kind of attitude? At the next lesson, I am planning to take her violin and bow away and say “that is not a nice way to talk to your teacher” and ask her to apologize, or something like that… I was just reading an article about how “pretty soon, adolescence is going to last from age 5 to 35!” She’s 4, not 14! Sheesh!

Connie Sunday said: Jun 20, 2008
Connie SundayViolin, Piano, Viola
667 posts

What an interesting question. I assume mom comes to the lessons? Is mom rude, too? When she behaves rudely, look at mom.

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Grace said: Jun 20, 2008
110 posts

mom started working full-time, so dad brings them to the lesson. I think the last lesson he almost said something to the 4 year old, but he didn’t. It kind of seemed like he wanted me to say something, but I’m not sure. Both parents are definitely NOT rude, but very busy working full-time jobs…

Should I discuss it with the parents before I do anything? How would you teachers respond to a 4 year old who told you “I already KNOW that!” ?

Jennifer Visick said: Jun 22, 2008
Jennifer VisickForum Moderator
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Suzuki in the Schools, Violin
998 posts

I might say (firmly, seriously, sincerely, but not unkindly) to the student: “what you have said is rude, and it makes me sad. If you would like to try it by yourself, you can say ‘please let me try it alone’, but you are not allowed to say ‘don’t help me!’. That is unkind. Can you ask ‘please, may I try it alone’? (Then when she asks politely, of course, let her try it alone).

I would also speak to the parent (out of both children’s hearing, perhaps in a phone call or parent teacher meeting) about asking her to be nicer and more respectful to you during the lesson. Maybe even have the parent help her practice saying appropriate things to express her feelings one week, instead of practicing violin.

then take steps to minimize any frustration the student might feel at the lesson—for example:
Do you have a formal beginning and end to the lesson (e.g., teacher and student bow to one another)? Do you have a formal lesson “spot” (for example, a small area rug or a foot chart)? Do you truly have one point lessons (if you’re fixing the pinky, don’t touch the bow till next week)? Are the lessons consistently several minutes shorter than the student’s attention span?

I might also try having her talk to her fingers—give the pinky a name —so that you can acknowledge and praise her knowledge (for, of course, she HAS already heard that her pinky should be curved, etc., etc.)—and yet you still point out that the ability needs to be cultivated with those 10,000 repetitions. Something to the effect of “You’re right! WE know pinky should be curved, but miss pinky finger doesn’t know how to do it yet! She needs lots of reminders… you’re the only one who can tell her to do it! Oh dear, she doesn’t want to obey you… maybe she doesn’t understand you… let’s see if you concentrate, if she can do it…. maybe your other hand can help her….” etc., etc.

Lynn said: Jun 23, 2008
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
173 posts

I agree that manners are manners!
On the other hand, she is also 4, which means new levels of independence and self assertion. That’s just normal (and necessary!) development. I’ve seen it often enough in my 4 year olds—different styles, but the same underlying bid for autonomy.
My responses include:
I KNOW you know that!…Do you think your ______ does? All by its self without you looking?

Like RaineJen, I make a distinction between what a student knows and what her various body parts actually do. From there, possibilities are limited only by your collective imaginations. Sometimes, the part needs help or needs extra attention (remember when you were little, and you Mom was around, you knew what to do, but when she was away, you sometimes did the wrong thing by accident?), sometimes that part is checking to see if she is really paying attention, etc. For the kids who love contests, I’ll keep score. A point to her if she does it “her” way, a point to the parts if they do it “their” way. An interesting twist is that if that part manages to win a couple points, they can opt to keep going once all points are awarded, win the points away from the other side.

For the child who doesn’t like to be touched, I frame it as me speaking directly to the bow arm, for instance, then ask her to please allow me to “talk to” the bow arm. When we take turns talking, generally, the dice decides how many times in each turn, and how many turns we each get.

For the child who speaks rudely, I translate ‘rude’ to ‘inept’, and supply an alternate, more appropriate version. “You said….this is the polite way to say that”, or “do you remember the polite way”, or “please ask me/say that politely…” etc. I don’t think the child is intending to be rude. She is learning how- and when!—to assert herself, and trying to claim ownership of herself, her instrument and her own learning. It’s still a new skill, so she’s not always going to get it right.

Overall, this is a great opportunity to teach and model cooperative interaction, which requires that each person acknowledge the participation and perspective of the other. So often when adults and teachers say “Cooperate!!” they mean “Comply!”….

Grace said: Jun 24, 2008
110 posts

Thank you very much! There is a lot of wisdom in your words. Each time so far, I have turned around the situation and kept things very positive.

I was wondering if she was “testing me”, and if I didn’t address the rude words in a stronger way I would be (by default) encouraging her to continue down that path. They are on vacation this week, but I will see how things go next week.

Grace said: Jul 3, 2008
110 posts

I wanted to give an update. We had a lesson today, and I am so happy to report that it went great.

She started in right away, telling her dad (but also within my earshot) “We are going to play whatever I want today.” :shock: I thought “uh-oh!”, but I was finishing up with her sister, so I didn’t respond. Then, while I was still filling out her sister’s practice assignment, she told me “I’m WAAAAI-TING!”.

So, I put down my pencil and looked her straight in the eye, silently thought “be firm but kind”, and told her “You are not to speak to me like that because it is not respectful to speak to your violin teacher like that.” Then, she tried again “Well, you’re not the boss.” So I said, “Yes, I am. For the next 20 minutes of our lesson, I am the teacher and I will decide what we do.”

And that was it! I realize in this case, she was asking for boundaries, and once she had them she worked inside them. The rest of the lesson, it felt like we were on the same team again. We worked on her pieces, and she was (we were both!) having fun.

Thank you for all your insight and advice.

said: Jan 2, 2009
 4 posts

I realize you have solved the problem (yeah! :D ) but thought I would post from personal experience just in case you find it relevant at some future point:

My sister is about 3 years younger than me and she started violin after I did by a couple years (3 and 6). She felt so inadequate having to listen to me at a more advanced stage and unable to do things that don’t look as hard as they are up front that she talks about it to this day and refuses to put her daughter in any class mine is already in (i.e. gymnastics) because she doesn’t want her to go through the same problem. She quit a year or so after she started and never looked back. She is to this day very interested in piano. I believe my parents may have handled it better also but it was a long time ago.

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