WHO’S IN CHARGE?
I think many power struggles are simply the result of a child rebelling against feeling like they don’t have enough choice or control in the matter. Research has shown that children (and adults) will be much more likely to enjoy an activity when they feel a sense of autonomy or control over their actions. People—children and adults alike—naturally dislike always being told what to do!
PROVIDE STRUCTURE AND PROVIDE CHOICES
If you find your practice time turning into a battle of wills, look for ways to share the control or decision making with your child. You don’t have to let them completely run the show, but you can and should allow them to make certain choices while still providing the structure they need to progress and succeed. As with so many things in parenting, you have to strike a balance, and the right balance may be different day to day and year to year as a child matures and becomes more independent. Try to give your child just enough structure to make practice effective, while allowing for as much choice and autonomy as possible.
Here are some specific ideas for giving your child more autonomy during practice time:
- Invite the child to choose the number of repetitions
- Invite the child to assess her own playing. “How did that sound?” or “Did you feel confident with all the notes or do you want to try that again?” (Sometimes it’s OK to go with what the child decides, even if you disagree. This will build trust and earn you more leverage down the road.)
- Ask, “What section needs the most work?” Let the child choose a section to practice.
- Invite the child to improvise a song with you or alone. Improvisation is a great tool for building a child’s sense of autonomy and control at the piano. I would love my students to improvise for at least a minute or two every day.
- For children who are old enough to be more independent (usually ages 9 to 11) try saying, “OK, today I’m just going to sit over here and listen. You’re in charge of your practice time. If you need any help, just let me know.” Sit back, relax, keep your mouth shut, and see how it goes.
Remember: Provide structure, provide choices, find the balance.