The holiday season is a wonderful, joyful time, full of visits from family, special events, and treats! However, sometimes all of the excitement and extras can lead to struggles when it comes to practicing. When these struggles occur, it’s important to remember a few things:
Motivation comes from a sense of autonomy and competence, and a feeling of capability. Your child must feel as though they know what to do, how to do it, and that they can do it. It can be easy to fall into an overly authoritarian mode, aiming to control your child’s behavior, but it’s much more useful to teach them to control it themselves! If you’re overbearing, your child won’t feel autonomous, competent, or capable, and this undermines their motivation. This makes it harder for your child to learn self control.
Even positive reinforcements like stickers and prizes can undermine student’s progress, if they’re not handled correctly. The trick is to keep the focus on the intrinsic reward of learning, which your child may or may not yet value. Doing something as simple as complimenting them on their efforts and progress while giving the “prize” helps with this! As long as you’ve been framing the prizes well from the beginning, once your child matures and has had a few successes, the intrinsic value of their learnt skills will become more interesting.
A famous child psychologist, Ross Greene, puts it this way, in his book Lost at School: “Whether a kid is sulking, pouting, whining, withdrawing […] or worse, you won’t know what to do about the challenging behavior until you understand why it’s occurring (lagging skills) and pinpoint the specific situations in which it occurs (unsolved problems). Lagging skills are the why of challenging behavior. Unsolved problems tell us when the behavior is occurring.” Greene’s findings are geared toward parents whose child suffers from severe behavioral issues, but I believe this way of thinking is useful to all parents. Greene’s method is talking to the child and figuring out why the undesirable behavior occurred, then brainstorming solutions to the problem, rather than restricting or punishing the child.
Focus on meeting the child’s needs and solving the problem as a team, rather than attempting to correct or control behavior. Help them take ownership of their progress by involving them in the plan and rewarding their hard work! Focus on giving kids a central role in solving their own problems, within age-appropriate limits. No matter what struggles this season might bring, you’ll face it as a team!