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An alternative to the power struggle with your child

What to do when you encounter resistance to practice – an alternative to the

power struggle with your child

Sooner or later most kids will push back against the idea of learning a musical

instrument. Even if they themselves chose the instrument and have shown great

interest and skill in the past, there likely will come a time when they either go into

outright rebellion or at least become disinterested for a time.

In my experience the most common parental responses to this situation come in

three different flavors:

1) Push them harder until they rekindle their interest on their own. To be

honest, this is my tendency with my own daughter. I also know that many

parents wish their parents had “not let them quit” (I hear this all the time) so

they respond with increased pressure driven by the fear that their child will

grow up to regret quitting just as they have. The problem with this approach,

if it goes too far, is that the child will often push back even harder and what

ensues is a power struggle that has nothing to do with music lessons

whatsoever and rarely ends well.

2) Use some kind of external reward or punishment to get them to do what they

used to do willingly on their own. Rewards for number of days practiced,

points toward a special prize or taking away a game until they practice can

all work in the short term, but if used predictably without student input have

all been shown to have significant negative effects on a child’s internal

motivation over time. Use these techniques sparingly, unpredictably and

only after the child has had a chance to reflect upon the quality of their own


3) Just give up: “If they don’t want to commit, why should I force them?”

Unfortunately, this is the most common response to a very normal

fluctuation in student interest. To me the biggest problem with this response

is not just the lost opportunity to learn music, but message it sends to the

child: “If something is difficult or you don’t understand it, just give up.”

I certainly empathize with parents who take the easy way out. Music lessons are

a huge commitment for the entire family in terms of time, money and energy. I

have often wanted to throw up my hands and walk away when my daughter

doesn’t want to do her best to reach her potential. But in the end this is not the

easy way at all, because a child that does not develop the discipline to remain

committed to a goal, to work through a challenge, will come up against these

situations with increasing frequency. If they don’t learn the skill of overcoming

adversity now, it will only be more difficult later.

However, there is an alternative that can help completely circumvent the whole

power-struggle, manipulation, giving up paradigm. I sum it up with this

sentence: “We’re sticking with it, but let’s find a way to make this fun again.”

The basic idea is that we’re signaling that we are committed, but flexible and

reasonable. There are a thousand things that can change about music lessons

and practice without undermining the basic educational experience. To name a

few: What music is learned, what time practice takes place, whether the parent

is present, changing teachers, changing instruments, joining an ensemble,

practicing for shorter intervals more often… and on and on. Talk to your child,

talk with other parents, talk to your teacher and talk to me. Together we can

come up with something that will rekindle the fire.

Dr. Steadman Owner

Orpheus Academy

Music Lessons in Austin, Texas with Piano, Guitar, Voice and Music Camps
Orpheus Academy 3918 Austin, TX 78731
(512) 231-8999
(512) 354-3922