Unruly student

Jennifer said: Jun 22, 2008
Jennifer Moberg
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Dehbori Kabul, Afghanistan
71 posts

Hi folks—

I’m sure you have all had this problem at one time or another…. I have a student who is extremely unruly during group classes, despite encouraging, cajoling, threatening, etc. He is generally pretty well behaved during his private lessons. I have spoken to his parents, they have spoken to him, but he is just downright disruptive, to the point of causing the other kids to either act up or get fed up with him. Due to available space, I have had to keep group classes quite small (3-4 each), so you can imagine the impact of one unruly child on the lesson!

The culmination of his behavior was last weekend at our recital when he was goofing off so much in the audience (and the parents were doing very little to control him, much to my chagrin) that other children’s parents were shushing him, and when he got up on stage for the group portion of the concert I had to put him next to the pre-twinkles because he was being so disruptive and egging other students on.

Please help me out with this! How do I address this, as I have already spoken with his parents??

Btw he’s 5 years old.


Ms. Jennifer

“Music exists for the purpose of growing an admirable heart.”


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

He manages fine in a lesson when he has your undivided attention, but when in the presence of others, where your attention is more diffused, he unravels. Is that about right?

I keep my frustrations with such children in check by hanging invisible signs everywhere with Suzuki’s observation that “Children do not play (substitute behave!) badly on purpose”!

A place to start might be recognizing that a focused one-on-one lesson setting is a much less stimulating environment than one with many other people. Some children are sensitive and easily overstimulated, and they are going to need specific help and strategies for learning to manage themselves and their level of arousal. An activity that for most is fun and exciting can, for them, quickly become overwhelming.

Does he have this difficulty in other settings with specific behavioral expectations, such as in school?

What insights do his parents have to offer about their child, his behavior, observations of your style of group interaction and group management, and it’s effect on their son, and strategies and techniques for keeping him within bounds that work, and that don’t work? Be willing to take some feedback here, if they have some for you, but also recognize that they may be having their own difficulties, and are hoping to learn something from you.

Has the child been prepped and coached about how to behave immediately prior to entering group class? And I mean specific behaviors spelled out. Talking about your expectations at a lesson is too far removed time-wise from the situation. Is he even aware that, or why his behavior is disruptive or inappropriate? He may not be. If he is aware, let’s assume that if the boy knows how to act, and isn’t, it’s beyond his ability. In either case, identify one specific behavior that needs to change, practice the replacement behavior, and have a plan for when he starts having trouble maintaining. It’s important that you identify with him what having trouble will look like. Maybe at first his Mom pulls him aside for a break until he feels he can once again demonstrate the expected behavior, and then later he can remove himself. Set specific goals for either duration before/between breaks, or for number of breaks for a class.

Approach this like you would any other technical component of violin playing, which is to say, rather than expecting him to behave appropriately, expect to teach him to behave appropriately. Granted it’s a bit more extreme than usual, but this kid needs the help—and maybe so do his parents. In the long run, this may be the most valuable and enduring gain from violin lessons! Break down the behavior just like you do any other technical skill, identify the components, generate practice assignments, anticipate what circumstances will challenge those skills, and find ways to engineer his participation so that he comes away successful.

said: Jun 23, 2008
 55 posts

I too have had an unruly child (age 6) in group but fairly well behaved in his private lessons. Often the parents will take him out of group for a “chat” if his behaviour becomes disruptive. When he was five this happened frequently. I tried to reinforce the good behaviour with compliments and encouragement but it did not seem to make a difference. What I ended up doing was giving the boy a choice when he was misbehaving. I would say, “Billy”, if you feel you cannot do this nicely with the other children you may sit out until you can join in nicely.” Or something like that. I gave him a choice. Sometimes he would choose to sit out and just watch and other times he would smarten up. I always speak in a calm voice that hides any irritation and I noticed that in general his behaviour improved. The parents also followed through with consequences if he was really badly behaved.
As for behaviour at recitals—I have “sharing week” in all my group classes, even the pre-twinkles. We talk about being good audience members like at a recital and how to behave and then we “practice” while they perform for each other.

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