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#102 What to do with a Strong - Willed Child in Music Practice?

Updated: Dec 14, 2023

By Christy | the Practicing Pro
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The opinionated and headstrong child can be so hard to parent and even harder to manage a daily home music practice with.

I like to call these little people TUMBLEWEEDS.

Have you seen or held a tumbleweed before? You have to be so careful - they are surprisingly hard and sharp.

So, Imagine a tumbleweed rolling across the arid plains, unstoppable and resolute in its journey.
Similarly, tumbleweed children have an idea in their head and they can be unstoppable. In a home music practice, they know what they want and are determined to achieve it, the only problem is that this can work against them and they might be determined not to do something they are assigned or not to practice at all. This determination, while admirable at times, can sometimes lead to challenges in their musical development. They can get STUCK like a prickly tumbleweed at the base of a tree in some brambles.

These tumbleweed children though if managed just the right way - can grow up to be determined and focused on their goals. They can become powerful, creative, unstoppable leaders.

How this relates to Children
We are talking about music right now though, so in all things, remember that everything they learn in music lessons and daily practice habits will stay with them and later in life all of these skills will go with them. Practicing every day with these little tumbleweed characters can be frustrating, but it's important to focus on the kind of child you're raising and who you want them to become. Someone who loves music, is part of a community, has discipline, can regulate their feelings, stay focused on a task until it's done, ask for help when they need it, and knowing how to accomplish bigger goals are some of the many advantages.

When teachers or practicing parents come to me asking for advice and describing their child's behaviour in detail to me, I ask them to step back and look at the child from outside of the room. Now, take the violin out of the picture and ask yourself what's really happening.

Ask yourself Questions
Is there a routine in place for practicing?
Is the conflict specifically with you as the parent?
Are you providing support during practice?
Are your words positive and encouraging or negative and frustrated?
Is the child hungry or tired?
Is the practice too hard or too long?
Is their to-do list overwhelming?
Do they know why they're practicing?

What's happening…. be a detective.


Easiest is Routine
Making a routine is the easiest way to practice without friction. Set a specific time and place for practice every day. Provide support during practice in a way that works for your child, such as a practicing activity, a challenge, a checklist, or a fun activity you can do together after practice. Record the practice and listen back to your words to ensure they're positive and encouraging. Don't make your child stop doing something they love to practice. Instead, schedule practice after something they don't love as much. Use a practice chart and make the list slightly shorter than the actual practice time. Allow your child to make choices during practice, such as choosing the order of their practice activities.

By focusing on the child and their specific needs, you can help them develop a love for music and the discipline to achieve their goals. The tumbleweed child is a child who knows or thinks they know what they want and are determined to achieve it. As a parent, this can be challenging because what they are tumbling towards with unmovable prickles can lead them in fact in the wrong direction, causing them to get stuck and miss out on many experiences that we, as parents, know are better for them.

For instance, a child may refuse to hold their violin up on their shoulder, no matter what. This can become a significant issue, as playing the violin requires holding it correctly, and the child may not progress if they don't. The teacher and parent may try everything, but the child remains unyielding. Should they stop playing the violin? Everyone involved is frustrated, and the prickly, hard tumbleweed is stuck at the base of a big tree, unable to move forward.

Give them Solving Skills
The best approach for these wonderful little tumbleweeds is to equip them with their own coping and problem-solving skills. They are independent, confident, and determined, and they resist letting others help them. Therefore, if they can learn to be curious and identify their feelings, it can go a long way in helping them steer themselves in another direction when they are blowing by at a tremendous speed.

If they want to drive, they need to learn how to regulate their emotions and develop their creativity when readjusting and trying again, to get out of their own stuck spots.

Teach them to Regulate Emotions
I previously wrote a blog post called "Feeling Sticks" which you can find on Practicing Pro. HERE . It's tough to see our little ones struggle, even with the smallest of problems. As parents and teachers, we often rush to their side to help them. I recently visited Harry Potter's Wizarding World, which was so much fun. Check out Blog #103 for more about this and to learn what kind of Wizarding Parent you are. Some types of parents will help with a willful determined child and some styles of parenting that will clash.

A Great Calming Strategy
However, sometimes children may have a meltdown if they can't get something right. In these situations, it's important to help them regulate their emotions and express their feelings. You can help them identify their emotions by saying things like "I am sad because I can't get this to work" or "I lost the game and I am angry." Then, you can offer some strategies to help them calm down, such as taking a few deep breaths together or going outside and counting backwards from 10 to 1 while thinking about a funny story. By helping them regulate their emotions, you can create a safe and supportive environment where they can learn and grow.

Model for them
It's important to provide children with models of handling difficult situations and regulating their emotions. For example, when a tumbleweed gets stuck against a tree and they say, "I can't do this," you can suggest a model in their life or a character in a book who faced a similar challenge. In the wand situation, you can ask them what Harry would do if he couldn't get a spell and was feeling frustrated. This encourages them to use their creativity and problem-solving skills. They sometimes come up on their own with brilliant things that you would NEVER have thought of too!

It's also important for you as a teacher or parent to model these skills for them. For instance, when you're cooking and something goes wrong, you can say "Oh this makes me so mad I spent an hour on this supper and the bottom is all burnt! I'm going to step outside in the cool air and calm down and count from 10-1, then I am going to come back in and see what I can think of doing." When you come back in, you might notice that the bottom layer can be cut off. Let them know and see the process that you want them to model.

Reguate Feelings and Assist with Balance for Tumbleweeds
So to conclude: To effectively deal with a tumbleweed musician, it's important to strike a balance between offering help and support while also giving them the space to figure things out on their own. Instead of telling them what to do, try asking if you can “work together” or “how you can assist” them. (learn more about this in Blog #103) Additionally, it's important to teach them how to regulate their emotions and explore alternative solutions when things aren't working out. Encourage them to use their own ideas and keep trying until they find a solution that works for them.

Check out my Free PDF download Checklist for a Successful Music Practice for teachers and practicing parents.

Your easy checklist for successful home music practices from Christy, the practicing pro. Whether you are a new or seasoned practice parent or music teacher, this checklist will help you organize before, during, and after practices for effective and fun practices.

INVITATION from Christy Hodder:

Speaking of amazing practices, let me tell you all about the digital course, the Practicing Pro Academy. This is for the serious practicing parents and music teachers and is an at-your-own-pace, step-by-step, online course to bring you more effective, positive, and fun home music practices. Registrants receive a special package in the mail from me, and I am with you in person with Q&As to answer all your questions.

Learn more about PPA and join the waitlist HERE for the next Practicing Pro Academy course. It's only offered once a year so you don't want to miss it. The registration will only open for a few weeks and I'll let everyone on the waitlist know immediately so that you can grab one of the spots.

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