Updated: Jul 5
By Christy | The Practicing Pro
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We’ve all been there. You tell them it’s time to go, it’s time to have supper and turn off the cartoons, or it's time to practice piano and then it happens.... total meltdown. This is completely normal in small children, and some have a more difficult time than others when switching activities.
It's a difficult situation when you need to take something away from a child, such as an iPad or toy because it's time to wash up for supper or get ready for practice. Usually, a meltdown happens when you are taking something away that they want and replacing it with something they don’t.
There are a few strategies to keep in mind to lessen the chance of having an angry or upset child who is not wanting to leave or stop their current activity and go to a new one, even if the new one is also fun.
Have you ever had a child say NO to something you know they really want because they are not done with something they are in the middle of? Yep. Let's say they are building something with blocks and you call them to go on a trip to the ice cream store. You KNOW they love trips to the ice cream store BUT they say NO and have a tantrum because they are not done with their blocks yet. If this scenario doesn't work for a trip to the ice cream store then to stop to practice the guitar is a sure disaster.
What about having a child practice AFTER they do one of the following?
Leaving the park to go home
Turning off the TV
Putting away a device
Getting out of the bath
It is really hard for a child to leave something they love or are not finished with yet. This is when tantrums can certainly happen.
There are a few tips that you can do to help make the transition much easier. I put it on a PDF for you to print and out in your practice binder or on your fridge. Somewhere you can see it often. WHEN a practice transition goes really well, take a peek at these 10 things and NOTE which ones of them you did and do that again! IF there was a meltdown then take a look at the list and see what you could have done differently, practice it in your head, and be prepared for the next time.
1. Communicate with your child and let them know what to expect. Explain to your child what is happening each day at the beginning of the day. When they know what to expect each day, it’s easier for them to go with the flow. If you are leaving the house to go shopping, for example, let them know you are going to get gas, go to the grocery store to get food for the week, and then drop off books at the library. You are NOT staying at the library today, just dropping off books. In a few days, you will be going to the library though. But not today. Today is groceries day. Do you see how now they understand before leaving that today is not library day, even though you are going there? Instead, you have told them WHEN they will be going to the library. Tell them - afterward that we will come home, have a treat and play violin together with our new stickers, for example. Make it a game in the car and quiz them. “Where are we going first?” “Yeah! That’s right, the gas station!” “Where are we going then after the gas station?” “What are we doing at the library today?” “Dropping the books down the SHOOT!” “Yes!” "Would you like to out them in the shoot and I'll hold you up high? Or would you like me to put them in the shoot?" “When are we practicing violin with our new stickers?” “YEAH! After our snack!”, etc.
2. Make a family calendar or a chart that they can check off. Fill it with their activities regarding their music: lessons, home practices, playing violin for Grandma, putting on a special home concert, etc.
3. Make a consistent routine. Routines are critical for kids (see the previous blog “Why a Routine is Paramount for Your Child’s Education”). Parents need to be consistent. Kids will do best when they know that after school they come home, wash hands, have a snack, practice, do homework, play outside until supper, etc. It’s helpful to have a list of this routine so they can look at it and know what to expect and what is expected of them. You can even have a list of multiple routines depending on the type of day. For example, this is what your day looks like when a friend comes over after school, this is what it looks like when we do an errand on the way home, etc. That way, if their day-to-day schedule changes, you can refer to the list. On days they want to go to their friend’s house, they can look and see that on that day they need to practice before they go to school, or when they come home after supper. It will help avoid an argument or meltdown because they know what the answer is going to be before they ask “can I skip practice tomorrow and go to my friend’s house?” You have already decided they CAN but it means practicing in the morning that day.
4. Roleplay to practice changing activities (this is one of my favorites). Act out what they will do and say and what YOU will do and say as well. We need to practice changing activities just like we need to practice a song on our instrument, and it takes time and some days are harder than others. Talk about it - let's say your usual routine is the example I gave above. They know the routine is to come home from school, wash hands, have a snack, practice guitar, do homework, and then play outdoors until supper. But today you are going out for an early supper with friends. So you are practicing now after supper instead of before, like usual. This could be a disaster right? So you can “practice” by role-playing in the car on the drive home from school. First, tell them exactly what’s happening that’s different from what they are used to. “Today we are going out to a birthday dinner with our cousins. That’s so exciting! This means we will go home and wash up, change your clothes, get our present for your Auntie we wrapped up last night, and go right to the restaurant. For a snack, we are having just a quick drink of juice then we will go fast to the party. After the party, as soon as we walk in the door we are going right to the piano to have a short practice. Just three things today because we will both be tired after a big fun party! Let’s practice that now. I’ll say - ”Hey Johnny, let's play the next three things on our chart on the piano before we jump in the bath.” Now you can say “Ok Mom, let’s do it!” (they say it) and then you can cheer or say “thanks I really appreciate your cooperation on Auntie’s special birthday.” Honestly, this one is as much for parents as for children. As soon as we lose our temper or get frustrated, we often don’t say the right things and the situation escalates pretty fast! So remember, a child must practice every day to improve in playing an instrument. As practicing parents, we too have to practice every day and learn new, positive ways to parent and help our child to be successful.
5. Be a master observer. If it’s your child’s routine that they get to play with their toys before supper, take some time to observe them. Silently watch them for a few minutes instead of abruptly announcing its supper and expecting them to be obedient and immediately put their toys away. That’s not realistic for most young children. Instead, pause and watch them carefully - generally young children play by going from activity to activity. Watch them and when they are about to transition from one thing to the next, that’s the magic time to get their attention before they get caught up in a new activity. Offer to help them clean up their toys and come to supper. If you were really watching, you may even have noticed what caught their attention when they were about to switch activities. You can have that activity ready and waiting for them after supper or after their music practice.
Note: I would never ever put practice after playing. I would put it as soon as you get in the door right after school OR after their snack (make sure they are not hungry when practicing). Even better, incorporate their snack INTO the start of the practice for their review/warm-up songs! Another time is right after supper. Most children are usually “done” and relaxed and content after eating - it can be routine to wash hands and practice after an after-school snack or after supper. Another amazing time is after getting dressed while they wait for breakfast to be ready. These are just examples - every child and every family is different. Practice at the time of day when there is routine and when your child is the calmest and most agreeable.
6. Give your child warnings about when activities are about to change, even if it’s
within their routine. “Remember, as soon as you are done eating, it’s time to wash your
hands and play cello together.” You’ll probably get a lot of “I knoooow, Mom” as they
get older, (a routine COMPLIMENT by the way) but for young children sometimes a reminder of an upcoming transition is helpful.
7. Give your child as many choices as you can. Dr. Suzuki encouraged parents and
teachers to always start and end practice with a song your child loves and chooses
themselves. (Make sure you check it off of your review chart.) This song is SPECIAL and
is not to be corrected or improved at this time. This is their favorite song to play. I will
often take note of my student’s “special song” in my book so at the very end of their
lesson we can play it together. Remember that if music is always corrected and
improved and never just enjoyed at the level it currently is, then children won't want to
play and their confidence will be lost in the process. I call the last song of a lesson or
practice a “party song”.
Note: Remember to never give a child a choice when you don’t mean it. For example, don’t say “Georgia, would you like to put the legos away and practice?”. Instead say, “Georgia, it’s time to practice in 10 minutes, decide which important pieces you are going to put on your lego shopping mall, and clean up the rest. You can work on it again tomorrow after supper. I’ll be right back, I’d love to hear all about the new stores you added before we sing together.“
8. Make activity changes more fun. For example, see how many shiny silver things you can spot on your drive home that are the same color as your flute. Or say “let’s jump like a bunny to the piano and see who can make the BIGGEST hops.”
NOTE: Time and objects are not the same to a child.
Time for practice, bed, or school, for example, doesn't feel the same as playing this music game (they can see and experience the game), putting the bubbles into the bathtub (they can carry the bubbles to the bath), or having supper and they can hold and pour the drinks.
It can be less of a blow to a child to take away a toy and replace it with something else like a healthy snack than it would be to just take it away and replace it with nothing.
9. Put together something your child likes to do with practicing. For example, say “as soon as we practice we can get a snack.” (Make sure they are not over hungry or a melt down might happen.) Or you can combine their afterschool snack with their practice. “Today we are practicing with goldfish crackers - every box on our chart is worth three goldfish!”
10. Last and most important. Talk about how they handled a change really well and
that you appreciated their cooperation. Talk about how well you both work as a team. If they are really discouraged from stopping an activity, then talk about how they feel. Are they discouraged, disappointed, worried they can't finish it, sad to leave a new friend, etc. “I know you feel frustrated that you can’t stay and read another book”. Let them always know that you see them and you understand and know how they are feeling. As a parent, the challenge is if they have a tantrum and lose it, you need to always stay calm. Always speak to them at their eye level. Say their name in a soft, kind tone. They might be out of control, but you are calm and in control. Tell them calmly it’s time to stop what they are doing. If you stay calm while managing them in a difficult activity change, your child will also be more likely to stay calm or more quickly return to a calm state and cooperate with you.
Remember there is no such thing as a perfect parent. We have all made mistakes and we are all navigating parenthood together. It’s important to give yourself credit that you are just doing the best that you can. I hope these tips were helpful and gave you a few ideas to try in the future.
Now put your hands on your hips, stand up straight and say “I AM A SUPER PARENT”, because you are!
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.
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