One of the main differences between Suzuki and traditional lessons is the idea of the parent being the “home teacher”. The parent and teacher are both partners in the child’s education. Since the teacher only sees your child for a short time each week, much of the responsibility of daily practicing, and therefore your child’s progress, rests on you, the parent. Here are some ideas for how to talk to your child before and during practice time!
Ask open-ended questions. Instead of saying “do you want to practice now?”, say “would you like to practice now or before dinner?”. Be sure to follow through with your child’s choice, even if they aren’t agreeable to it when the time comes. Remind them that they chose this time. You want to demonstrate that they really do have control. If you run into resistance about the choices offered, then you make the decision for them. Sometimes with my students, I’ll say they have a count of 10 to decide before I pick, so they have a chance to cooperate but not enough time to stall and derail things. Once your child knows exactly what the boundaries are, and that they never change, they’ll cooperate more readily. If, instead, you were to always offer them alternate choices, they would never stop asking to change things - after all, it worked!
Don’t offer a choice that they don’t have. If you ask if they want to practice now and they say “no”, that somewhat ends the discussion. At this point you either must wait to ask them again later, or disregard the choice that they’ve made. Having to wait and ask again is annoying and means that you must remember to do so, and disregarding your child’s choice shows them that the choice was an illusion - it teaches them to distrust you when you ask them something.
Announce things, rather than asking. The trick with this one is to use a happy, excited tone of voice. Think of the way you say “it’s time for dinner”; dinner is inevitable, and even if your child says no, you would probably say yes and plop them down at the table anyway. You can also use this mid-practice if your child’s mind begins to wander. In lessons, my students bow at the beginning and end of lessons, and in between bows they must only ask or talk about violin things. This could be a good rule to implement in daily practice as well! Here’s some examples of what I will say when something off-topic comes up: “That’s a great question for after the lesson!”, “We’re focusing on violin right now”, “It’s violin time right now, but we can talk about that afterwards”. After practice time, be sure to follow through and ask your child what they’d wanted to talk about earlier. It’s okay if they don’t remember, doing this is more to demonstrate that you will keep your word, on the off chance that they really did need to talk about something.
Use collaborative language. Rather than “you need to focus”, say “we need to focus”. This helps your child feel less called out or attacked when you have to tell them to adjust their behavior. Another good option is making “I” statements rather than “you” statements. Instead of “you need to focus on violin right now”, say “I think you might be a little distracted right now, let’s focus on violin!”.
Avoid statements like “that note was wrong”, “no, try again”, or “that sounded bad”. When you have to tell your child that they’ve played something incorrectly, say instead “your 2nd finger was a little low” or “be a little more gentle with the bow here”, or simply “Something sounds off about the notes in this section, let’s play it through slowly and figure out what to change”. If your child responds poorly to even gentle criticism, it’s likely that their feelings stem from insecurity. Reassure them that you are proud of their playing ability, and that this one incorrect thing doesn’t negate all the things that they’re doing so well with.
Although none of these ideas will be the “magic bullet” that makes your child immediately do as you ask, I’ve found them all helpful in working with my students. They set up a more collaborative environment, and help your child see you as a member of their team. Happy practicing!