My 9-year-old son takes piano lessons, and was happy to play for his friends. However, for the last half year, he disliked practicing at home and he wasn’t making much progress. I tried to help him by doing Special Time before practice or by playing the piano with him, but I wasn't that consistent. To be honest, this issue wasn't high on my list.
As a child, I wasn’t asked what I wanted to do very often, and I had had no say about piano lessons or about practicing. I had to do both and felt I was not good at all. Even when I did want to do something, the way my parents supported me was by telling me what I should do, or with comments like, “You’d better make the most of this,” and, “Is this another of your selfish whims?” when they paid for things I asked for. So I felt that I shared this parenting weaknesses with my parents–I just wasn't supporting my son well, and didn't know how.
One day, however, my son’s piano teacher nudged us to work on practicing more at home. This triggered my feelings of hopelessness and guilt, leading me to think, “I am paying so much for lessons and I can’t believe my son is not making the most of it!” On our way home from the lesson, I started lecturing my son. He went quiet and clearly felt ashamed. I caught myself. It felt wrong to lecture like this. It took a lot to bite my tongue, but I apologized and shut my mouth until we got home, which allowed me to regain relative calm.
At home, I asked my son if it was okay for us to talk about piano lessons. My son reluctantly agreed, “Okay….”
This time, I tried my best to keep from saying “If you can’t practice, you should stop taking lessons,” which was what my mom would say to me when I was small. I sat down next to him, looked him in the eye, and asked as calmly as I could what I could do to help him practice every day. My son started complaining about how his younger brother was bothering him or how it was unfair that his brother could play while he had to practice. I listened and resisted the urge to say things like, “That’s not true!”
I asked him gently again, “What help do you need? I am sure you can do it.” This made my son really upset, and he answered, “You can just shut up and be quiet! Go away!”
I responded, “I really want to figure out a way to help you practice. I am sure you can practice.” I held my ground, but at the same time kept wondering if I was still motivated by my upset, or was now offering a kind of real support at last. I chose an attitude of listening and giving confidence to him rather than lecturing and changing him. I thought, “He knew what he was supposed to do, and actually liked to do, but he just couldn’t for some reason.”
My son was soon crying. He cried hard, saying it was unfair and it was all my fault. I checked on my younger son, and saw that he was fine in the same room with us, quietly doing other things, so I kept on Staylistening to my older son’s feelings. He cried sitting down next to the piano keyboard with me at his side.
After about 15 minutes, I needed to take care of other things and he wasn’t crying hard any more, so I told him I was going to have to move on, and got up. To my surprise, he started practicing piano on his own soon after I left his side. I couldn’t believe it.
Since that evening, he has practiced piano most every day, sometimes starting on his own, other times with my encouragement, which had never worked before. Piano practice did not feel like a dreaded chore any more. Something was lighter. I could tell that my son was playing because he liked it and he wanted to. Seeing this changed the way I think about music, too. I stopped saying, “It’s time to practice your piano,” and started saying, “I want to hear your music. Can you play?”
I can see that I was able to help him to work through whatever was in the way of him enjoying music practice.
—Keiko Sato-Perry, Certified Parenting by Connection Instructor
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