Shall we start this blog post with an embarrassing confession?
Okay, great, here it is:
Almost every time I finish practice with my adorable pre-Twinkler, I hide in my closet and eat chocolate for a few minutes. Between my daughter’s perfectionism and distractibility and my two year old literally throwing a basketball at us through the entire thing, every practice session is exhausting. Somehow, practicing half an hour with my kids is more exhausting than teaching for several hours. Before we have played a note I have shielded my daughter’s violin from oncoming toy missiles, fielded numerous requests for snacks and hugs, and pulled my son off the top of all our tallest furniture. It’s no surprise that I feel crazed by the end.
Obviously, I don’t handle practicing with younger sibling distractions perfectly, but through trial and error over the last several months, I have discovered a few things that help my family.
Before we practice, we have 5-10 minutes of “Special Mama Playtime,” where I am completely focused on them. They take turns picking a short activity- dance party, read a book, draw a picture, play Go Fish, pretend to go to the dentist (my crazy children really love the dentist). Then I make sure everyone has had a diaper change/trip to the bathroom and a drink of water. Yes, our Pre-Practice Routine sometimes expands to take longer than practicing itself.
My son is very motivated by being a helper. He brings his sister her violin case and foot mat when it’s practice time. Sometimes in the middle of a practice session I will send him to get a puppet or ball that we can use while we practice (mostly to get him out of the way…) As he’s gotten older, he’s started helping me count repetitions. Often he gets involved by playing his cardboard violin on his own foot mat.
I have a few toys that I only pull out during practice in the hopes the novelty will keep him playing and not becoming a roaring hurricane through the house. He loves the opportunity to play with Magna-Tiles, markers, and other controlled substances.
Because I am focusing on trying to get my daughter to practice with less tantrums, she gets a sticker for every time she practices without screaming at me. My son gets a sticker for everytime we practice without toys being thrown at our heads. When their practice chart is filled with stickers, we go to the store for a donut. Note: after six months, we finally got a donut today.
Embrace the Distraction
This is my primary practice method. It is very complicated. The steps are: ignoring my other child as much as I can. That may sound cruel, but I also think it’s important my daughter gets as much focused attention on her as I can manage. I make sure there are other times of the day my younger one gets all the attention he needs, and I know that in a few years he will get practice time with Mom, too. So, I snatch flying trains out of the air without making eye contact, move him to the other side of the room while singing “Tukka Tukka Stop Stop,” and occasionally turn the pages of a book with one hand, while helping my daughter place her fingers with the other hand.
Practicing with distractions means my daughter will be prepared to ignore all the crying babies, rustling papers, and coughing grandparents at her first recital. I hope she will be able to ignore it all, and just perform. And when we go home from that recital, I will hug and kiss both children for all the work they’ve put in, and go to my closet, and double fist chocolate chips. It’s probably going to be stressful to keep them quiet during a recital. Chocolate is my coping mechanism. Don’t judge me.
Let me know in the comments if you are also struggling with a distracting younger sibling in lessons, especially if you have any brilliant suggestions.
(Carrying his sister’s foot mat to lesson.)