Everyday around the world, parents are nagging kids to practice their musical instruments and kids are fighting back, dragging their feet and thinking wistfully about the activities they would rather be doing.
I have a secret. It doesn’t have to be that way. Practicing doesn’t have to cause aggravation, conflict and pain in your family. In fact, practicing can be a time that kids actually enjoy and that can improve your relationship with your kids. **GASP**
“Tell me more, crazy lady!” you say? It would be my pleasure.
The first key to successful practice:
I taught piano lessons to a family with three girls ranging from 6 to 10 years old, each with completely different personalities. They decided that they would participate in our studio’s 100-Day Practice Challenge. Students have to practice their instrument for the length of their lesson (i.e. 30 minutes) for 100 days in a row with no exceptions. This meant that the mom was committing to supervising the girls for an hour and a half for 100 days in a row. When I asked her how it was going after the first few weeks, this is what she said: “In the beginning it was hard, and they complained and fought me about practicing. But, now it’s just something we do. They know to expect it and they’ve stopped arguing. All of them willingly go to the piano bench, and I need to help them sometimes, but I am thrilled at how much they are progressing. I didn’t know they could play so well!”
Did you notice what she did that was so successful? She was consistent. That family found a routine that worked for them and they stuck to it. Consistency is the first key to making practice time pleasant at your house. Try your hardest to find a daily practice time that works for each child and stick to it, and keep in mind that changes might not happen overnight. Show your own consistency and priorities and your children will follow.
The second key to successful practice:
You, as a parent, need to understand exactly what practicing is, and its value for your child, or you won’t value it yourself. You’ll compromise practice days and slip into the habit of barking at your child to get out their violin and practice, or threaten to quit lessons if they don’t shape up.
Music practice time is PRICELESS for your child’s personal growth. They’re not just learning an instrument, they are shaping their problem-solving skills, focus, self-discipline and regulation, time management, math skills, verbal skills, foreign languages, fine and gross motor skills, intellect, ability to accept constructive criticism, delayed gratification, performing under pressure, and emotional expression. Is there any other activity you can think of that addresses all those areas of personal development? I am not aware of any! Besides that, they’re learning to play an instrument they can enjoy through their entire life.
How to help your kids practice:
You need to come to practicing with the mentality of being a co-learner, not a policeman. We want them to use their natural curiosity about the world for good. We want to nourish their ability to make discoveries and ask questions. Sit with them in a calm and quiet attitude and help them to become self-propelled learners. When they make a discovery or breakthrough, they’re naturally motivated to continue (without threats, bribes or coercion).
And you need to celebrate every accomplishment! Give hugs, high fives, high praise when they overcome a hard spot in their music, or perfect a beautiful melodic phrase. Brag about them in front of other adults – not just about their ability to play, but about their drive to work hard and how they persevered through a challenge.
Use your teacher as a resource to break up their assignments into small, achievable goals for you to work on for the week and guide your child lovingly and gently toward taking more and more personal responsibility for their practice time. Then sit back and watch your precious children grow and thrive through challenges, self-correct and gain confidence in everything they do the rest of their lives. Watch yourself become a better parent and a better person as you set an example for them.
Can we afford not to approach practice this way?