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At what point do you make a child quit practicing something?


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#1 4kookiekids

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Posted 10 October 2017 - 12:44 PM

Maybe it's math for your kid or what, but for my kid: it's piano. Few things cause as much frustration as working on a piece and being unable to get it "right." And don't even think about telling him it sounded good when he KNOWS it wasn't "right." And by right, he means perfect. He's currently been at the same song for almost an hour. His fingers hurt. He's been crying for the last half hour. But he won't walk away, and he cries even more when I suggest he come eat lunch and take a little break, because he doesn't want to end his practice session with a "failure." I know he needs to walk away, and we've done this dozens of times in the past, where he SEES that the next day, he does so much better. But he can't remember that in a way that makes this situation any better. I'm going to make him stop now anyway, because sisters need to nap. But I'm wondering for next time. Should I have stopped him long ago? How frustrated should I let him get, so that he works on hard things, but doesn't get obsessed with perfecting them *this very moment*?



#2 Tanaqui

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Posted 10 October 2017 - 01:00 PM

In your kid's case, I'd stop him long before the crying stage. Set a timer. When the timer dings - and it's a relatively short time! - he's done, no matter what. If he's starting to display frustration of this sort, you stop him, no matter what. He needs to break this habit of obsessing before you can work on a habit of persevering in healthy way. As soon as you see the warning signs, you give him a two minute warning and then end the practice session. (The goal is to get to the end of a session without a meltdown. To that end, I suggest you start your new length at some time 10 minutes shorter than when you usually start to see the warning signs, and then gradually lengthen it. Ending successfully means getting to the end of the session on time, without freaking out.)


Edited by Tanaqui, 10 October 2017 - 01:11 PM.

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#3 SKL

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Posted 10 October 2017 - 01:37 PM

Have him play something he knows and enjoys and then stop.  :)

 

One of my kids does this, and as much as I love that she wants to play, I can't take hearing the same thing over and over and over and over ......  I make her stop by telling her she has to finish some other things now.  Sometimes she even listens.  :)


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#4 SKL

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Posted 10 October 2017 - 01:39 PM

PS I used to practice about an hour a day for fun.  I wasn't crying though. 

 

Your son needs to re-boot his brain.



#5 LindaOz

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Posted 10 October 2017 - 01:41 PM

While I was reading your post I was thinking, 'Set a timer'. And then that is exactly what Tanaqui said. Ending the session, even if the piece is not mastered right then, is sometimes necessary so that next time the situation can be seen with a fresh perspective.

Then, sometime when the pressure's off, have a chat to ds about how learning is a process - a step by step thing - and not everything is mastered in one go.

On a practical 'note' (pun intended), does your ds take the time to practise the tricky bit slowly and with separate hands? Sometimes that can be the first step to finally getting it. Get the right hand correct, then the left hand on it's own before SLOWLY putting the two together. Just something to look out for (sorry if he's already doing this...just thought I'd check :)).

Edited by LindaOz, 10 October 2017 - 01:42 PM.

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#6 Critterfixer

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Posted 10 October 2017 - 02:18 PM

You can tell him that the moment you start getting frustrated is the point where all learning stops. It doesn't do much good to keep going at something after you've lost patience with it. You might indeed "get it perfect", but your poor fingers and mind won't remember anything except the fact you got frustrated. And you'll end up hating the piece. Moreover, the next time you go at it, your confidence won't be as high, because you'll be putting all kinds of pressure on yourself to keep from "messing up."

 

He needs to treat his talent like you would treat a friend. You wouldn't hurt a friend by making him play until he was crying and tired. He would take care of his friend, and make sure his friend was rested, fed and comforted by playing a game that didn't frustrate him. Maybe that metaphor would help.


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#7 Another Lynn

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Posted 10 October 2017 - 03:25 PM

I really like what Criiter said (and everyone else, too!). Also, maybe he needs to break it down into smaller goals - like target one measure until it's smooth three times in a row. This might make it easier to end on a good note. Then target the next rough place tomorrow. (Or whatever, depending on how long it takes...)
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#8 fralala

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Posted 11 October 2017 - 05:50 AM

I know with my child like this there is nothing I can say or do in the moment that will snap her out of it, and most things I do or say will make it worse (especially telling her to stop, and that she is no longer learning or improving when she is gnashing her teeth).

 

Aside from working on the mindset and perfectionism generally, as soon as I notice her getting even a little bit upset-obsessive (upsessive?) I do try to help her reboot and move on to a new and appealing activity. And I have noticed that the upsession usually is most likely to happen when I'm not right beside her, which makes life more difficult for me (since obviously obsessive practice could potentially get her out of my hair until I begin to hear the wails), but I do try to be at her shoulder monitoring her body language and looking for all opportunities to reward any glimpses I see of a growth mindset with a kiss or a pat or words of appreciation. (I figure she may be like me and adjust her attitude by the time she's in her thirties by the way things are going with this.)



#9 Bluegoat

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Posted 11 October 2017 - 09:18 AM

I was going to say something different based on the title, but it seems to me in this case, it's kind of a more general issue - knowing how to manage these things is something kids who get like that will need to learn for all kinds of things.

 

So I would be inclined to look at ways to modify the problem, not necessarily quit.

 

The timer is a good example.  Have a talk with the teacher, to talk to him - sometimes kids need to hear things from someone other than mom.  It could also help to try and create some different feelings around music-making or achievement more generally.



#10 Lori D.

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Posted 11 October 2017 - 11:00 AM

Totally agree with Tanaqui, LindaOz and Critterfixer.

 

And just adding, at a very different unrelated time to piano practice, you might want to read together the books:

What To Do When Mistakes Make You Quake: A Kid's Guide to Accepting Imperfection

What To Do When Your Brain Gets Stuck

 

Those will help give your DS some "tools" for dealing with perfectionism and obsessing. :)  :grouphug:  Hugs to you both! Parenting is so hard! Warmest regards, Lori D.


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#11 smily

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Posted 11 October 2017 - 11:43 AM

Just to add:

Playing the piano should never cause pain in the fingers (or hand or wrist). Something is not right; there really shouldn't be physical or emotional pain with piano practice. Whatever he's doing to make his fingers hurt, it's incorrect and can cause damage.
Honestly it sounds like the whole situation needs a new philosophy.
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#12 4kookiekids

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Posted 11 October 2017 - 01:00 PM

Thank you all so much for your suggestions! I'm going to definitely make it more of a point to talk with him about this when he's not upset about stuff. It's definitely a personality thing he has, but it's not as apparent in other areas as it is in piano. My knee-jerk reactions are generally to reassure him, encourage him, etc, because I really do think he's doing great! But he almost gets even more angry, like he thinks I'm trying to patronize him. He only just turned 8... lol. This is definitely something I need to be more intentional about dealing with before it gets completely out of hand, I think!

 

 

Just to add:

Playing the piano should never cause pain in the fingers (or hand or wrist). Something is not right; there really shouldn't be physical or emotional pain with piano practice. Whatever he's doing to make his fingers hurt, it's incorrect and can cause damage.
Honestly it sounds like the whole situation needs a new philosophy.

 

Hmm. I'll ask a pianist friend to watch him and tell me. I had just figured that this song (I know it because I've helped him with it a bit) has his left hand doing more than usual, and particularly his left pinky (which is what he was saying hurt), so some amount of "building up" the muscles in his pinkies might cause discomfort, since those pinky fingers aren't usually asked to do a lot. But I'll definitely make it a point to ask how his form is!



#13 ktgrok

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Posted 11 October 2017 - 09:09 PM

I've spoken with my 7 yr old about how the brain works, and that once she is upset she goes into fight or flight mode, and the body is prepared to run or fight, but not to learn. That even navy seals, when under stress, have trouble using their brains to remember things. (there is a study on this). That our brains work best when we are calm, and that if we get stressed it is best to stop, calm down, and come back when our brains can think. 



#14 WendyAndMilo

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Posted 12 October 2017 - 01:58 PM

Hmm. I'll ask a pianist friend to watch him and tell me. I had just figured that this song (I know it because I've helped him with it a bit) has his left hand doing more than usual, and particularly his left pinky (which is what he was saying hurt), so some amount of "building up" the muscles in his pinkies might cause discomfort, since those pinky fingers aren't usually asked to do a lot. But I'll definitely make it a point to ask how his form is!

 

Exercises to build up those muscles should have been done prior to learning the song.



#15 4kookiekids

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Posted 12 October 2017 - 04:18 PM

Exercises to build up those muscles should have been done prior to learning the song.

 

Nope, you're right that she said he should be rolling his arm when he does that particular thing (which he wasn't). But she also says that he shouldn't be practicing much more than 20 minutes on the same thing at this age because his form will get worse the more tired he is.


Edited by 4kookiekids, 12 October 2017 - 05:14 PM.

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#16 Mimm

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Posted 12 October 2017 - 04:50 PM

I always had my kids quit and take a break from something when they got frustrated/upset about it. I think I inadvertently taught them to give up when things are hard. They would just fall apart and quit when things were remotely challenging. Two kids, with very different personalities, but both of them did this, so I kinda figure I did something wrong to cause it. :) With my youngest, when she gets frustrated and starts crying, I encourage her and tell her to keep trying.

 

This might be the wrong advice for your son. But I wouldn't necessarily see his determination to keep working through something difficult in spite of his emotions as all bad. Maybe if he doesn't want to walk away for a long break, insist he come get a drink, take a few deep calming breaths, then go back to practice?



#17 MamaChicken

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Posted 12 October 2017 - 04:51 PM

I agree with the replies above that it shouldn’t hurt, and that issue should be addressed with a teacher asap.
In 10 years of watching kids practice I’ve learned that frustration can be a lot of things, and that sometimes there are tears, and sometimes I can help, but often i need to evaluate whether I’m reacting to the fact that the kid is unhappy or to the fact that his emotions are making me uncomfortable.
There have been times that frustration and fury have come right before a breakthrough. This same kid learned to ice skate the same way. I’ve learned to stay out of it.
There have been times that frustration was the result of fatigue or hunger. It’s amazing what a silently delivered cup of tea and cookie can do for a bad practice. I still bring tea when I hear a particularly difficult etude. Helps to keep the hands warm. :)
We also went through a time, when ds11 was recovering from a broken arm, that we had to discuss his practice frustration with his teacher. She was a huge help. They spent an entire lesson talking about figuring out what was causing frustration and how to handle it. In hindsight, he needed pt, but the frustration was managed much better after that lesson, and he eventually got all his wrist mobility back.
It’s hard. Hang in there.

#18 MerryAtHope

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Posted 12 October 2017 - 05:05 PM

In addition to limiting his practice time, you might try comparing this to something else he may have learned that took more than a day to learn. (I always used swimming lessons with my kids). They didn't learn how to swim in one practice session--it took many practice sessions. It's not reasonable to expect that one would become proficient in one session. The same is true for mastering a song on piano--his expectation is not reasonable. He should expect it to take quite a few days. Instead, his goal might be something like "practice 20 minutes with a good attitude."


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#19 4kookiekids

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Posted 12 October 2017 - 05:17 PM

In 10 years of watching kids practice I’ve learned that frustration can be a lot of things, and that sometimes there are tears, and sometimes I can help, but often i need to evaluate whether I’m reacting to the fact that the kid is unhappy or to the fact that his emotions are making me uncomfortable.
 

 

This is probably true of me as well. Our piano is in the living room, so I'm usually right here when he's practicing and it's hard for me to see him get so worked up. I think I would probably respond better if I were somewhere else in the house and could hear what was going on, but not every single detail.


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#20 KSinNS

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Posted 13 October 2017 - 04:10 PM

So this is, IMHO, one of the best things you can learn from music-how to cope with frustration, and how to sort out a problem. A timer can be a problem long term, but may help short term. It might help to have a chat about frustration when he is calm, and then work on how to take a break, come back to it, and face the problem with fresh eyes. If you know about music, you can sometimes help trouble-shoot (or get a pianist friend to help). But most important to remember is our family mantra-there are no practice related emergencies. If you can't get something figured out, it's really not life and death. Just put it aside, and tell your teacher at the next lesson, and they can help you fix the problem. There is so much practice-related angst in our house--but it's very gratifying to see them learn better coping mechanisms. And see that translate into other activities. 

 

Oh, and this is always good for a laugh when you/they are having that kind of a day. 

 

 

 



#21 Dust

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Posted 14 October 2017 - 08:05 AM

I always try to end on a happy note. 

 

Does he have a teacher who is telling him to practice for x amount of time, and he is in tears before that amount of time is up?

 

When DS starts to get close to tears, or is already in tears I give him one more thing to work on, that I know he will do successfully and easily. There have been times in math where I ask him 2+1 or 6-0 just to give him a successful ending to his day. It's easier if I don't let it get all the way to tears though.

 

I'd translate that into piano by having him do an easy scale or an earlier, easier part of the piece to finish up his practice for the day. 

 

If he struggles with this section and can't get past it, even with fresh hands, can he talk to the teacher? Maybe he needs to do another exercise to help his fingers move in the way required for this part of the piece.

 

And I agree with other posters, set a timer and be done after a certain amount of time, even if he's enjoying it when the timer goes off. More practice time is not better if it's causing the emotions to run high like that.