Do You Teach Your Own Child? These Are the 9 Lessons I Learned by Being my Daughter’s Violin Teacher
It takes a lot more than just having the knowledge.
You never know when constructive criticism or a petition to do it again can result in disaster. Kids are so vulnerable with mom (or dad) that it’s a big challenge. You might have said it a certain way to 8 different students during your teaching week, but you say it the same way to your own child, and all trouble breaks loose.
It’s always good to gauge the attitude before you start with the lesson because if your child is already in a grumpy mood, then the lesson time will be wasted if not careful about the approach.
It’s important that not only the child’s attitude is taken into consideration, but also your own emotional state before beginning the lesson. If you’re anxious or stressed out about your day, or hurried for time, watch out for those feelings invading the lesson.
It’s better to take some time for yourself right before the lesson, even if it’s to just get a cup of tea or coffee and then settle more calmly into the lesson time.
Before I was a parent myself, I couldn’t understand why some parents in my studio came complaining to me about practicing with their child. I really thought that it was that they just weren’t doing their job well enough.
How wrong I was! You could have the best of intentions with your child and the highest hopes to accomplish a goal during the lesson or during practice time, but if your child isn’t cooperating, then forget those goals!
This is when you must focus on other skills, such as positive attitude, cooperation, and lots of creativity.
It has always surprised me that when I hear my daughter from afar speaking to someone else, I’m really able to hear her ‘real’ age in her voice. Here I’ve been treating her like an adult, but her tiny little voice has always been a wake-up call.
Here I’m demanding all these things from her regarding violin, like concentration, dedication, hard work, etc, but there she is just a little girl.
When I hear her tiny voice from afar, I realize how much she needs to play and how fun needs to be a key factor in her learning.
Mom (or dad) is a safe place. It’s with mom that the boo-boo is fixed. It’s with mom that the tears are wiped. Mom has that magic wand that can make things easier. We are the shoulder they can cry on and with whom they can freely release their emotions.
If I understand this, I understand that my child feels safe with me, and maybe there’s something else going on that might have to be addressed in lieu of the lesson.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to put my goals aside regarding which technique we’ll work on that day, and just sit down with my daughter and chat about what’s going on, or why she’s having a certain attitude.
By the end of our chat, only if we’re lucky, we’ll get to practice. Many times, that day is spent on developing our other skills such as communication, attitude, cooperation, empathy, and especially happiness doing it.
So even though sometimes I might be tempted to think that it’s a wasted day, I look at all the other skills we worked on and marvel at the opportunities that I was given to not only help her but to work on my own abilities to navigate the difficult times. I always learn something too!
Children love doing things by themselves. This all begins right from when they’re babies, wanting to hold the bottle by themselves, wanting to hold the spoon for the first time.
So when my 8-year-old and I are butting heads about the practice, I pick my battles and let her do it on her own even if I know that she’s making that same mistake over and over.
I remember many years ago when my dad used to complain to me when I was a teenager practicing my violin, and saying, “It’s kind of annoying to hear that same section again and again with you stopping always in the same place. I can never get to hear till the end of the phrase!” Of course, my dad’s lack of pedagogy was obvious, but he’s not a musician, and he just wanted to enjoy my playing without realizing that I wasn’t playing for him, but that I was practicing!
Well, with my own child, I know that I can help her get through that difficult place (so that she does get to the end of the phrase!) but sometimes, I must leave her on her own to figure it out. This is how she’ll develop that confidence that she’s able to get through it if I’ve correctly set up the environment for her success.
I’ve made the commitment, not with my daughter but with myself, to make music a vital part of her life. Even when I’m tired, even when I’ve had a rough day, even when I’d much rather read a book, or clean up the dishes, the commitment I’ve made gets me through.
One day at a time, I find the space to invest in my daughter’s musical journey. Some days it might just be for a few minutes, and some days we might be a full 2 hours engaged in the practicing.
The commitment I’ve made also gets me through those days when things don’t go so smoothly, and I want to run and hide. I forgive myself those feelings and start a new day with my commitments revisited every chance I get.
“We’re going to have to find you another violin teacher because I just can’t be your teacher anymore!”
I heard myself saying this many times. I really didn’t want this to happen because I obviously wanted to continue working with my daughter, but I really disliked the attitude problems that arose along the way.
One day, the only solution was to make the threat real. The next time we started practicing, I warned her beforehand that if her attitude was not nice during the session, I had decided that we would find her another teacher.
Since I had said this many times, she obviously didn’t believe me. I simply warned her that this was her last chance, and lo and behold, of course, she took that chance, and there was the attitude again! So, I quickly stood up, and said, “Ok honey, we’ll have to find you another teacher.”
Cries and sobbing broke loose. It was a tough situation but I held off for an entire 2 weeks of working with her, while she continued to negotiate with me to get her lessons back.
To make a long story short, she became very keen on figuring out different ways that she could change her attitude, and came up with savvy suggestions as to what we could do if her attitude wasn’t entirely correct.
Even though it was a painful and difficult time to weather out, especially since there was absolutely NO practicing going on during this time, once again the skills that we developed due to what we learned by navigating through conflict are priceless.
Ever since we began our violin lessons together at the ripe age of 2.5 yrs old, my daughter has been the queen of dawdling. She continues to dawdle, even now at 8 yrs old! It’s a common behavior amongst kids, and therefore, I have found that the best thing to do is to prepare her for what’s coming beforehand.
Let’s say we're coming back from a birthday party on the weekend and we have yet to practice. Along the ride, I’ll say, “When we get home, you can go to the bathroom, wash your hands and then we’ll practice. After that, you can choose something else that you’d like to do, such as drawing or playing outside.”
So I’m paving the road mentally and emotionally so that she’s prepared once we get home to get started right away. It works most of the time...
So many musician parents feel they’re incapable of teaching violin (or another instrument) to their own children. But think about it: Even if you don’t teach them, you still have to help them practice.
And, you’re teaching them every day anyway! You teach them to sit correctly, to brush their teeth, to be respectful, etc. Those are all skills.
Playing the violin is also a skill. I’ve kept myself going by thinking why not teach my daughter this particular skill if it’s something that I know how to do well? I have more time with her than any other teacher would. It’s a privilege to be able to be there for her day in and day out.
Even if it’s 10 minutes every day of one-on-one interaction, it’s more than the 30-45 minutes a week she’d get with any other teacher.
The thought that always pulls me through is that I’ve made a commitment with myself that I won’t give up no matter how hard it gets. And it gets hard, believe me! But then other days it’s easy, and they make up for those hard days. I think tomorrow’s another day and we have an opportunity to try again. I’ve committed to not giving up, and that has kept us going for 5 years!
Are you teaching your own child?
What are those new lessons you’ve learned along the way?
Write in the comments below and share your experiences with us.
We’d love to hear about your journey!