Jack and his mom have turned up for yet another music lesson, without having made any progress on his practice task, which was all about making bow holds together.  Jack is looking sour.  He clearly isn’t in the mood for music practice.

“Oh, Jack won’t let me help him to do that!”  This is followed by a rueful giggle and an arch look at young Jack, who in his turn, glowers sulkily at his mom.  I assist Jack in making several bow holds, to remind him of how it’s done, then I ask Jack to stand in front of Mom and make a bow hold with her.  Jack edges warily towards her and when she reaches out to help, he flinches away, with a frustrated yelp.  Mom looks at me,  “There, you see!  Why is he doing that?”  Jack folds his arms and turns his back on her.  IMPASSE!

Accepting parental help in a music practice situation, can be a huge problem for some children.  Here are a few thoughts on why this happens and how to make it OK for your child to accept your help.

1  Small children will often react badly to accepting help during music practice, because we are always prompting to learn to do things by themselves “like big children.”  They see accepting help as evidence that they are still babies.  “Be a big boy and put your shoes on by yourself.”   “Look at her brushing her hair, just like a her big sister.”

Talking about being on the same team, doing it together and “My turn, your turn” all help.  Teacher, parent and child will all learn from a team performance at a lesson.  I often talk to the child about the concept of Mom working for her during music practice.  I even ask the child about how she is going to pay Mom for doing it.  Getting this straight, can help.

2  Bright children sometimes need a lot of encouragement, to practice a task many times correctly.  The brain has already “got it,” but they don’t understand, that it takes many repetitions, for the body to “get it” too.  It’s much more fun, to be doing something new and interesting, instead of being pushed around.

For each practice task, you and your child will need very specific practice instructions, from your teacher.  You will need to help your child to repeat these correctly many, many times.  Disguise repetitions, by turning them into a music practice game.  Try The Game Of The Week, which works for all instruments.

3  We all have our own personal space.  Do you like it when someone pushes in abruptly to help you, when you haven’t even asked them to?

Respect your child’s personal space and be gentle.  I ask permission and tell a child what I am going to do, before I correct a child or pattern a movement.  “Please would you give me your hand” or, “I’m just going to check to see how soft your shoulder is” instead of what amounts to manhandling.

4  You can pretty much guarantee that a child will push back, when you try to move them into a better position.

You can turn such resistance to your own advantage.  Mrs Messy is a great hit in my studio.  She just can’t seem to get anything right.  Children have great fun correcting her in lessons and love it when she gives enthusiastic, but totally wrong advice.  During music practice, you could pretend to be “Mrs Messy” and playfully move his hand into the wrong position.  You will probably find him resisting you and moving back into a good playing position.

5  It can be very frustrating for a child, to be pushed and prodded into the “right” playing position, by a helper who is trying to fix everything.

HANDS OFF!  Stand back and observe what’s really going on.  When you notice positive things during music practice, you will empower both yourself and your child.  You don’t need to waste energy exclaiming, “Bravo, you’re so clever,” etc.  A gentle commentary, on what’s working, is very convincing.  This works just as well in a hands on situation.  “Jo-Jo is giving me her hand, so that we can hang it like a monkey, on the bow.  She is keeping her arm soft when we turn her hand over.  She is bending her thumb and putting it on the thumb spot.”  Just verbalizing the positive things you notice, will tell her that she has your complete attention, love and approval.  What more could a child want!

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