🙂 It’s end of January and “new year fatigue” is setting in with some of our kids. So the moment has come for That Chat.
I come across a few things that might sound familiar to you; to me, they still sound strange even though I’ve observed them for years now. One of them is the way in which commitment is taught to children, versus “excusitis”.
Like all committed parents, you are probably always on the lookout for opportunities to teach your child great attitudes for life. Violin, and practising violin, is an especially good one.
It is “optional”, meaning that the commitment to it has to come from within (first, from within the parent until the child has internalized it).
Imagine your child telling you, “Mommy, I’m tired, I don’t think I’ll do my math homework today.” You’re laughing, right? Of course you won’t let her get away with that! But… actually, why not? Because the school has decided that math is compulsory. And school is compulsory.
But you have decided, between yourself and your child, that she will be studying violin. You pay private money for it, over and above school fees (because the school does not offer violin as a subject). For every violin lesson your child receives, you have matched a certain amount of time you work to earn the money; and you pay it gladly because you are aware of the immense benefits of learning violin, and your child is worth this to you.
But what is she actually saying when she says she doesn’t “feel like” practising or going to the lesson, she’s too “tired”? She is saying that what you put in, your work time and money, are not important to her.
Children are by definition selfish; it is up to us to teach them to respect others. All kids are “tired” the second it comes to commitment. The resistance usually lasts only 3 minutes into violin practice, then it’s forgotten. Once that instrument is in her hand, unless a critical parent micro-manages the practicing, she’ll probably start enjoying it.
Where is the balance between micro-managing and supporting your child practising?
Support is, setting a start time and an end time and reinforcing them; even if it goes as far as unpacking the violin for her and setting an achievement chart with reward attached. In general, children under 11 practising 30 minutes per day will ensure fair progress while not stressing the mom too much. The more they progress of course, the longer the sessions become as they polish down specific things.
Support your child practicing by being “around” and making them aware that you’re listening, but not necessarily focusing on them (unless they ask your help). Comment when something comes out sounding particularly pretty.
Micromanaging is giving your child undivided attention and telling them step by step what to repeat, what to do differently, where they are still out of tune etc. While this is necessary with very young children, the moment your young violinist gains some autonomy it is more a distraction and frustration for them. I instruct them in the lessons on what and how to practise. I also check back whether they apply what I told them. The idea is to get them to decide to do it right, by themselves. Your support is to ensure that they practise daily, and long enough.
Disaster prevention: Of course if something sounds absolutely foul, you as a sensitive listener have the right to intervene! Barge into the session and say brightly, “that didn’t sound like Mozart! Are you decomposing his music?” or something like that, to take the sting out of the criticism. Then ask them to play you that passage again. The chances are, simply because you’re listening, they will put more effort into it, possibly slow it down and play it more accurately. Don’t do this too often though as it borders dangerously on micro-managing.
Set a routine:
The easiest way of insisting on daily practice is by slotting it into a set routine. Does your child come home more or less the same time every day? For argument’s sake at 4h? Give them a snack (I presume lunch will already have been given), let them rest for 30 minutes, and let them practise violin before starting their homework.
Why before? Because neurological studies show that violin practice makes a child (and an adult) focused and calm while charging up the whole brain ready for mental action. They will get their homework done in half the time if they practise violin first. Physically, too, the effect is the same as mild exercise: A lot of oxygen to the brain without overly large muscular exertion.
And remember: It only takes 21 days to learn a complete habit.
Let them follow this routine for a month and all you have to do after that is maintain it and not let it fall apart.
End of “that chat”; have a wonderful day & see you at lessons!