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Principles of Sowing and Reaping for the Suzuki Parent: Misguided Parental Approaches in Music Study

Are You Sowing the Wrong Seeds?

There are some seeds that you can unwittingly sow that will bear a poor harvest in the future. This post examines four misguided parental approaches that may produce unintended consequences in the future.

1. Cutting Corners

Let’s say the teacher gives a challenging but doable assignment. Sometimes, the student comes back the next week and the parent has decided that the assignment was not realistic. Maybe the parent thought, “Was it really necessary to do the exercise 10 times a day?"

I am not talking about the difficult practice weeks when you or your child gets sick. I am talking about something more subtle. It’s where the parent decides consciously or unconsciously that it’s just too much work. This can unintentionally undermine the teacher.

Your child will succeed the most when you and your teacher are allies with a unified front.

More importantly, if you cut corners on posture, review, or polishing a piece to get to the next one, it ultimately cheats your child. Yes, you may get short-term relief. But in the end, it will not be harvest that you really want.

Sow seeds with your child that communicate that hard assignments require extra perseverance and creative thinking. Work to clearly understand the assignment and then follow through at home to the best of your ability. It does not have to be perfect. It’s the thoughtful, diligent, and consistent effort that is important.

If you are experiencing practice resistance, discuss this with your teacher. Look at some of these suggestions from an interview with parenting expert Noël Janis-Norton.

2. Misguided Praise

Your child needs a tremendous amount of positive reinforcement as they learn to play an instrument. Your child absolutely needs to know that you love them regardless of how well they play their instruments. Unfortunately, parents can unknowingly praise children in a way that creates dependence or “praise junkies".

Comments such as, “Good boy” or Good job” praise the person or outcome rather than the process or effort. This can lead to risk-aversion in the future or an unhealthy dependence on approval.

Ask yourself, am I praising the outcome or the effort? 

Praise things that your child can concretely repeat. For example, “I noticed that you kept your eyes on your bow for the whole song.” Think of comments that show your child an action that is specific, concrete, and repeatable. This is very different from saying, “That was nice!”

Find ways to compliment and encourage the effort, concentration, and focus. This pays higher dividends in the long term. “I can tell that felt tricky to you. You really worked hard to try that new way to move your fingers.”

I used to say that I was proud of students. Now I catch myself and try to say, “I hope you are proud of yourself for how hard you practiced for your performance."

3. Over-scheduling

Parents feel so much pressure to have their children in multiple activities. As a teacher, I experience that some students consistently arrive to lessons tired, unsettled, and unfocused because cello is just one of many activities squeezed into a puzzle of scheduling mania.

I completely respect that parents want to give their children all the opportunities and experiences that they can. Yet, involvement to the point of over-scheduling may not be the panacea of cultivation that it appears to be.

If your child participates in so many activities that he or she cannot pursue excellence in those endeavors, you may be communicating that quantity of activity is more important than quality of attention.

As you evaluate schedules and activities, think about how to communicate to your child that pursuing excellence is important. Doing something well is valuable. This may mean cutting back on the number of activities so that your child experiences joy in the process and has the opportunity to excel.

But, if you do less, are you depriving your child?

Rather than depriving your child, consider that you are giving them a different kind of gift. You are giving them the gift of joy as they experience true mastery.

When a student has the opportunity to excel, that child experiences a genuine and growing self-confidence as he sees his skill and ability grow. This allows a child to enjoy mastery as they have the time, energy, and attention to excel in his endeavors. Perhaps less really is more.

4. Unhealthy Comparisons

As I am finishing up these posts, I am adjusting to motherhood with our six-week old son Ethan. I find myself wondering if he is gaining weight appropriately and developing as he should. Although a new parent, I can already relate with the desire to know how Ethan is doing relative to other children. For example, should I be concerned that his head size is only in the 40th percentile?

Sometimes parents ask questions that reveal their concerns. "Why is Jennifer so much further ahead in the Suzuki book than my daughter? They started lessons at the same time.”

Parents want to know that their child is on track and succeeding, which is a natural desire. The problem is when this desire morphs into an unhealthy comparison with other children. Unfortunately, unhealthy comparisons lead to discouragement for the parent, pressure for the child, and a sense of competition within a studio.

Sometimes it is helpful to bring concerns like this to a teacher. Your teacher may have helpful insights for you. But be careful how you frame thoughts and questions like this in front of your child. Children pick up on parental disappointment and worry, and can sense the subtle comparisons. I have seen students’ countenances fall as parents make comparing comments in front of them.

Your child will feel more joy and freedom if you choose to focus on helping your individual child succeed to the best of her abilities. Your child has her own individual rate of growth. Our job as teacher and parent is to encourage each child’s own growth rate. Don’t worry about where someone else’s child is in comparison. Focus on helping your child learn and grow.

How can you create an environment where your child is free to learn and excel at his own pace?

Guest post written by Kathleen Bowman. Kathleen is a performer and Suzuki cello teacher based in Saratoga Springs, NY. You can find out more about her on her website.

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