Practicing with my son has taken a turn for the worse of late. There’s been more frustration and sharp words from me. There’s been more stalling and whining from him.
I’ve let my general level of stress and my unrealistic expectations change the way I interact with my kids.
And I want to stop.
Often we know we need to change, and we just need to remember the how and why.
I, myself, need to be constantly reminded.
I want to use practice as a time of connection with my son, so I need to have a few techniques and tools handy for those practices that aren’t going well.
Our toolbag is constantly changing, but here’s what is working for us right now.
Jokes. Someone suggested looking up jokes for kids on the internet and reading them in between practice activities in the MTISTEX Facebook group and it has been great for us. Baby #1 (5yo) loves jokes, and has gotten a huge kick out of reading and memorizing lots of new jokes. Reading jokes during practice brings smiling and laughter to our practice sessions which I think is invaluable. Silly memes might be a good option for an older child.
The Decide Now app. We’ve added all of our practice activities here, and my son loves it because it means I’m not deciding the next activity. Our teacher introduced us to this app, and sometimes we do something similar with dice. (Also inspired by our teacher.)
Short practices throughout the day. My temperament is such that I want to get practiced finished and then be DONE, so this was difficult for me to implement. But it’s made a huge difference. I read somewhere that children have only their age plus one in minutes of good focus, so for my five year old: 5+1=6 minutes of good focus time. I decided to try practicing for six minutes six to eight times throughout the day. It’s hard for me, but he is so much happier practicing six minutes and then leaving it for a while to do other things. It’s easier to get him to come practice because he knows he won’t have to be focusing for 30-45 minutes at once. We can’t do this every day, depending on our schedule, but for days we’re home it works really well. (We have a lot of flexibility because we homeschool and I work from home.)
Switching places. I or my husband play the student and my son plays the teacher/parent. This works especially well if you don’t play their instrument. Children love to teach what they’re learning. It also gives you an opportunity to increase their awareness of what the instrument should sound like or how it should look.
Do something ridiculous. Have them lay on the floor while they play (depending on the instrument). Be creative, how can you change the emotional trajectory of this practice? Cry every time their bow hits an extra string. Be ridiculous.
Let them experiment. Give them two minutes to try whatever they want on the instrument.
Pull out a favorite game or book and take turns after each activity or read a portion after each activity. You know your child, what would they love to do?
Do a practice tour. Play each practice activity in a different place in the house. Maybe even standing on the kitchen table or bed.
The main point that I have to remember is that I am in charge of the overall tone of our practice. No matter what my son says or does, if I remain calm and try to bring love and laughter into the practice session then things won’t deteriorate much. If I jump in the pool of whining and frustration, well, that’s when things really get bad.
How do you rescue a bad practice session or lesson with a child? Please share in the comments.