Very independent 5 yr old

Kathleen said: Jun 4, 2009
 2 posts

Hello all—I’m very glad to find this forum. My 5 yr daughter just started Suzuki violin. I was a serious pianist when I was younger and still play but have no Suzuki experience and have never played a string instrument. I am looking forward to giving my daughter the opportunity to learn something new. However, she is very, very independent and wants NO part of any home ‘lessons’ with me. She is keen on the violin and keen on lessons with her teacher and is obviously very ready to to learn, but no matter how encouraging, gentle, non-judgemental I am, she adamantly wants me at arm’s length—”I can do it myself”. She will hardly even let me tune the violin let alone make any suggestions about trying something a different way. I try to let her take as much control over practise sessions as possible. She draws pictures of all the exercises and tunes she learns with her teacher so she can remember them (she has not started school and doesn’t ready yet) and I don’t need to remind her what to practise. She’s OK with us singing, clapping, dancing etc together but when it comes to actually playing, she wants to be completely independent. Ironically, my mother was a piano teacher and I was exactly the same way with her. However, I did not study Suzuki piano and so my mother could be strictly a ’sideline enthusiast’, giving me lots of praise, a good practise environment etc but leaving all aspects of my musical development between me and my teacher. This approach obviously won’t work with Suzuki as I need to have some level of involvement—especially because she is still pretty young. My husband and I have discussed having him attend the lessons and taking on the parent role but it seems crazy as he has no music training and also has a very ‘untrained’ ear. But, he’s willing to do it. At this point, I’m not really sure how best to proceed. There is no way I want to turn something as wonderful as learning a musical instrument into a power struggle with my daughter. Has anyone else encountered this situation? Thanks in advance for any comments or advice!

said: Jun 5, 2009
 89 posts

Try enlisting the teacher’s help. My (also very independent—aren’t they fun!) D also went through this phase and part of the weekly assignment was explicitly “let mom help” with one thing or another.

Another thing that worked was a puppet helper—the koala bear could get away with fixing bow hands much better than I ever could!

said: Jun 5, 2009
 10 posts

Hope you don’t mind a teachers’s perspective…..Many, many of the small students don’t like their parents to set their violins or even touch them at all. They will let the teacher, but not the parent. With those students I teach how to put up their own violins and set their own bowholds as soon as possible. Children all like being the experts at doing things—anything— themselves. The necessity is of course that you have to make it a huge priority and develop tremendous physical self-awareness from the get-go. You have to be extremely particular and picky with the child …. but the rewards are great. From then on, they are able to put up their own instruments and get their own bowholds and play.

In my studio the little beginners come for twice-weekly private lessons. Between that and their group classes, they are doing a lot of their violin activities with their teacher and don’t develop a lot of bad habits early on. Definitely, with posthaste, speak to your teacher about your struggles. Many will explicitly give congratulations or “points” every week for happy, productive home lessons—and all teachers have good ideas to help you. I myself had two “easy” boys who were a dream to practice with and then one incredibly high-spirited daughter who sounds like yours. I relish her passion and independance, but I also empathize with you and other parents who find practices challenging!

Beyond the physical set-up, suzuki parents are most involved in translating the lesson points once you get home and in ensuring that the studies get done, happily. Here it is best to remove yourself rather than have power struggles with your child. Think cooperation rather than “you will do as I say!” Take great notes and start every practice with reading aloud the instructions: be a good personal secretary for your child. With my own children I used to set up lego men, each with an instruction to follow …… or draw a picture for each piece to review …. or arrange a fishing game (magnetic pole, paper clips on paper fish) for what to do next in the practice. These kinds of games can be enormously helpful. I love the koala bear puppet comment!

My experience is that once the child is really playing, the intrinsic motivation of the music kicks in and the practice struggles diminish. It’s always a good idea to have regular practices, to make music your priority, to practice every single day if even for 10 minutes, etc. Habits are your friends!

If all else fails, take heart and take your child to all the lessons and groups. I have at least one student who took twice a week for a year at age 4 and then once and now is a fantastic book 6 player at age 10. She and her mother had a truly unworkable, impossible, butting-heads relationship for about two years. Now the mother and two sisters play chamber music together. Happy ending, with an amitted long view …

Laura said: Jun 5, 2009
Suzuki Association Member
358 posts

If I may add another perspective to the already excellent responses (which I agree with—love the koala bear and lego people!)

At this tender young age, the relationship over learning and practicing is probably more important than what’s being learned, because the latter can’t happen without the former. As a teacher, I would find it refreshing to have a 5-year old who is so independently motivated. I presume she is also very bright.

If she were my student (and I’ve had a few like this), I would do my utmost to teach the points to her in language that she will understand. I might even go so far as to make a list or a chart for her, showing how many repetitions of each thing, etc. I would make sure that she repeats each “chore” to me at the end of the lesson, and demonstrate as best possible, to show me that she knows what her marching orders are, so to speak. I would then hold her responsible to show me next time how she has accomplished those points.

Meanwhile, Mom is taking notes as usual. But I would advise Mom to avoid butting heads for a while, to allow the daughter to experiment being responsible for these practice “chores”.

If daughter can’t read yet, then she will automatically need Mom to decipher what I have written on her chart. If she remembers on her own and does as required, I congratulate her at the next lesson and continue in the same manner—if she can do it on her own, why not? Could be budding little prodigy on our hands, who knows? Give her the benefit of the doubt.

However, there will come a time (there always does) when it becomes increasingly impossible for such a young student to accomplish every point correctly as taught, to the point of consistentcy and security. When that happens—for example, when one specific “chore” fails to be accomplished for, say, 3 weeks straight, I’d then say very kindly but firmly to her: “We seem to have a little problem here. This part seems hard for you to remember on your own, doesn’t it? I wish we could see each other every day and I could help you remember. But since we can’t do that, I need your Mom to be my Special Helper.”

That way, the student would gradually “discover” that she does need help at home. If she continues to resist, I simply continue to point out her “failings” (sorry, that’s not exactly the word I’m reaching for right now, but for lack of a better term…) during her lesson. I would then ask, “Did you let Mom help you make sure you were doing everything correctly?” If yes, then I would praise her for that, and encourage them both to continue working as a team. If no, then I would gently “reprimand” her for not letting Mom help as I had asked, and continue in the same pattern for weeks on end until she finally gets the point.

I have had a student who hated her mom helping her. She quite firmly communicated to both Mom and me that since her mom “didn’t know anything about piano”, she therefore wasn’t “qualified” to be her home practice partner. (Or that was the jist of what she said in her own 6-year old words.) After a year of what I’ve described above, the problem is now gone—mid-book 1 has become tricky and she actually needs Mom.

I also believe it’s important to distinguish if she is:
a) just reluctant to let parent help, but is fine with teacher
b) very independent in general, and won’t respond to teacher OR parent

If it’s (b), then that’s another discussion altogether.

Michelle said: Aug 11, 2009
 1 posts

Thanks to all for the postings on this topic. My 4-yr-old daughter and I have not yet begun our Suzuki lessons (we’ll start in a few weeks), but I have already begun questioning the decision to begin lessons and I’m beginning to doubt my ability to be the parent teacher.

In preparation for upcoming lessons, I’ve been practicing myself and reading Sprunger’s book. We are also listening to the CD and having her “play” with the instrument. However, my gentle suggestions for posture or trying to hold the instrument have been met with frustration and are refused. This is not a surprise to me because most ordinary “teaching” interactions have been similar since about age 2. She is extremely independent and accepts help only as a last resort, usually after she has become completely frustrated and emotional.

I know I am about to embark on a huge challenge with lessons and practicing at home. I want to be very careful to make sure that this is a positive and fun experience for her. I appreciate the ideas listed in the forum and plan to check back for more suggestions.

Jennifer Visick said: Aug 12, 2009
Jennifer VisickForum Moderator
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Suzuki Early Childhood Education, Suzuki in the Schools, Violin
1076 posts


Why not let dad be the home teacher? It may be that seeing Dad really learning along WITH the student (instead of having mom, who already knows about music) may work a lot better.

This way the teacher is the authority and Dad and student “help” each other at home, each reminding the other of what the teacher said to practice.

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