Parents, you are doing a great thing not only by putting your child in music lessons, but also teaching them the value of discipline and hard work by making them practice. I won't pretend that it's easy, though. Parents and teachers both dream of practice being wonderfully productive- old techniques are reinforced, new skills are repeated and learned, your child puts their violin away as a slightly better musician than they were the day before, and your relationship with your child is strengthened by learning together. And then sometimes there's nagging, a complete lack of concentration, many mistakes, frustration, tears, and meltdowns. If this happens to you, you're not alone. For those rough days, here are 10 ideas to help get you through it.
1. "Head it off at the pass."
I got this idea from Carrie Reuning-Hummel's book Time to Practice: A Companion For Parents. Sometimes you know the practice is going to be rough before you even start, so have a plan to avoid any potential problems you may see. Make a short list of just a few things to accomplish during the practice. Write down each activity, your child will get to choose the order, and cross off each activity as it is done. Telling your child that you only have time for a few things during practice can take some of the pressure off.
2. Play a game.
I could (and will) write many more blog posts about this, because the possibilities are endless. Google "Suzuki practice games" or "violin practice games." Find fun ways to keep track of correct repetitions, like drawing a picture, and adding something new to the picture for every correct repetition. Play review pieces while adding a fun challenge, like playing with eyes closed, or while laying down on the floor. I've heard of parents incorporating practice into board games they already own. Many times you don't have to be overly creative... Make a slight change to a regular practice activity, call it a game, and see what happens. (Don't tell your kids I said that.)
3. Change the setting.
The novelty of practicing in a different place can change the mood, and is a solution for students and parents who are tired of the same thing every day. Practice outside if the weather is nice. Practice in the bathroom- different acoustics will be fun, and it's funny because, well, who practices in the bathroom? Set up an audience of stuffed animals, and turn practice into a recital. Be creative!
4. Take a break.
This one doesn't need a lot of explaining. Set a timer for a short break, and maybe have your child run around or do some jumping jacks to get energized, or to move around if they're having trouble staying still and focusing.
5. Offer a hug.
Parents often feel like the bad guys who are not only making their child practice, but constantly nagging them during practice. "Stand tall!" "Straight bow!" "Fix your bow hand!" Sound familiar? Us teachers know as well as you that you don't WANT to be the bad guy, but kids don't always understand that in their moments of frustration. A hug or some understanding words to tell your child that you see their struggles and are on their side can mean a lot to them.
6. Make it funny.
We're hard-wired to want to be right all the time (it's not just me, right?), so it's not fun for a child when they make a mistake, and someone points it out to them and tells them to fix it. This can be rough for a child during practice; it would be way easier if they could just play everything perfectly. Using humor can get rid of some of that tension. Sometimes I will scold a student's bow for playing the wrong notes, or send their left thumb to "time out" for squeezing the neck of their violin. Sometimes I will purposely make a mistake and laugh at my own silliness. (Okay, it's not always on purpose, but it still works.) Be careful with this one, though- it can backfire if your child is NOT in the mood for humor, and I've had kids get a little too carried away with trying to be funny that they lose focus.
7. Have a favorite activity saved just in case.
When you notice your child especially enjoying a particular piece, activity, or game during practice, make a note of it to use for future practices. If you have a tough practice ahead, it can help to tell your child that they can end with their favorite piece or game, motivating them to power through the difficult stuff since they have something to look forward to.
8. Change gears.
Sometimes a piece or assignment is difficult, but you should push through it even if it's unpleasant, because it will get easier. And then sometimes, it's not like that at all, and you just need to move on to something else. You or your child may be too tired to focus, an assignment may be too confusing, or your child's frustration might start building, and you see an argument starting to escalate. When this happens, change gears, and work on something else. You can always come back to it tomorrow.
9. Let your child teach you.
Kids don't like being told what to do (I know, this is shocking news), so every now and then, give them a break from that, and have them teach you something. It might be nice for you to get a break from being the boss! Consider lightening the mood by making some silly mistakes and having your child fix them.
10. Technology is your friend.
Taking pictures and videos can come in handy in many ways. Take a video of your child playing a piece, and watch it together, letting your child evaluate their performance. Take a picture of his bow hand, and have him correct it. Take a video of a new skill your child learned, and send it to Dad. A few parents have told me that when their kids don't want to practice, suggesting to videotape part of practice has helped to motivate them. (I've also seen how much kids love taking selfies on their parents' phones, so use that to your advantage!)
I hope some of these ideas are helpful, as well as the fact that you are not alone in your practicing struggles. I'd love to hear any other ideas you may have, so add your own in the comments!