16 Jun 2011

Is it ok to push your child? Stopping Piano is not the end of the world.

She (Preteen) came in shouting, venting her anger, cursing her mother with vehemence. “Stupid! My mother is stupid!” She walked mindlessly towards my hall table, dumped her books and continued “Why does she pack things without asking, Because of her, I couldn’t find my piano book. SO I have no book today, And then she, my mum, likes to nag nag nag.” She continues while making a face, moving her lips to imitate the nagging of her mother or rather to further insult her mother.
I did not answer to her anger, instead I said firmly “Enough. Get to the piano and open up whatever book you’ve brought. You don’t speak about your mother like that.”
I know, some might think I should have lent her a listening ear, counseled her, but I didn’t. I’ve counseled her before, but not this time. I thought, no, I will just not tolerate such speech against her mother. No pity or empathy needed this time. Preteens can manipulate others into think their mothers are bitches just to spite their mums, to cover their (preteen’s) own fault.
It was a horrid class, she was in a bad mood, I was tired of her lack of practice. When her mum came by to pick her up later, her mum asked to speak to me in private. The preteen stared at her mum, hung around the gate and refused to budge. I looked at her and said “Privacy please, for a moment.” She glared at us, then walked slowly, meanderingly towards the car, ears strained our way. This was really the first when I’ve been so firm with her. Usually I enjoy talking with this preteen and we have a pretty good teacher-student relationship.
Her mother’s story was different from preteen’s. She said “I’ve been having trouble with her lately. She sulked before coming for class, she kicked up a tantrum and refused to come. Partially it’s because she doesn’t have time to practice coz she’s very very busy with all extra classes and tuition.”
This was my opportunity to tell her mum the truth. I’ve been waiting for this moment, always debating with myself whether to give up this student or not. I want to give her up so badly, and the only reason I've continued teaching her is because I don’t want her thinking “Another teacher gave up on me.”  So I’ve persevered. She’s musical, this preteen, but she’s got no time to practice, and she struggles with learning new pieces on the piano, struggles a lot more than others. And I've discovered she loves singing, has a good singing voice!
So I poured out my heart and told her mum that though preteen was very musical, it was and is a struggle to teach her and that she'd ace in vocals.
“What should I do then?” asked her mum.
“Perhaps take a break, or learn  a different instrument so she can express her musicality through other means. Try the drums, vocals, or even a Chinese instrument.”
“But she plays beautifully when she’s in the right mood.” replied her mum.
“I know she does, but the truth is, she struggles to most of the time. For instance the piece she's learning, an average student takes 3 weeks to learn that, but Preteen has taken up to 6 months! She plays it lovely now, but it's been such a struggle for her.” I replied.
“So you think we should stop? Let us know when is a good time to stop.” I sensed that Preteen's mum said that without really meaning it.
I was tempted to say "You can stop her right now!" But instead I replied “Discuss with your preteen first, have a heart to heart with her. You could always allow her to explore different instruments, stopping piano is not the end of music education. There are so many beautiful instruments out there.”
I sense her mum agreeing, and yet disagreeing, considering how much investment she’d put into her daughter’s piano education, secretly hoping a miracle would happen and that daughter would suddenly excel at it.
“But seriously, not learning piano is not the end of the world. Go talk, and allow your girl to explore.” I said again. I looked at the tired mother with bags under her eyes and secretly wish the best for her, and hope she manages to have a heart to heart with her preteen (not easy, I can imagine). And we parted ways.

Generally in my years of teaching, there are 3 types of parents. The first is the type to push and push the child no matter what.  I’ve known a few die hard parents. Their child has flunked more than 1 piano exam, is struggling, and they insist “No! I will never allow my children to give up, I will push them no matter what! I will make sure they get to grade 8 no matter what! Even on my death bed, I will push! I must teach my child that one must never give up just because it's tough. This is good discipline.” I pity the child of that parent.
The second type is the type that allows the child to quit at the first sign of distress. “Mum, playing the piano gives me headaches.”    “Oh really?  We better not continue then.” A soft parent? and possibly one that allows the child to manipulate and determine everything without boundaries.
The third is the wise parent. Knowing when to push, when to let go.
Pushing a child and not allowing her to give up is often (but not always) good, it builds character and discipline to  certain extent. Pushing is necessary sometimes in the pursuit of mastery and achievement, especially in the case where the child is talented (but lazy or distracted by other more interesting activities like internet and games). Pushing is also sometimes necessary, for in the course of learning, one  will  encounter many "steep hills" where the going gets tough for a while till the hill/mountain is conquered. (This is very true in piano learning). I give you and example. Teachers said I was talented, but I told my mum "I'd rather die than to learn the piano anymore." A few swift strokes of the paddle on my behind cured me of further complaining. My mum refused to give up and recognized talent and insisted on pushing pushing. I admit, i hated it then,  but I went on to pursue music all the way and am thankful she didn't give up pushing.
 But if learning that extracurricular activity is a continuous uphill battle with a child who’s reluctant to learn, and has no real potential or talent (seek teacher’s opinion on this) then there comes a time to decide if it’s worth pushing or not? If it’s becoming a battle that strains parent and child relationship severely, personally I would think its time to take a break from the activity.
If your child is becoming depressed, or often flunking at this activity and the teachers hint difficulties, perhaps its time to explore something else.
I’d rather spend the money on an activity which the child enjoys and has strengths in, and help that child attain achievement and a sense of pride while at it, rather than push a child in an area of weakness and battle it all the way, just for character and discipline's sake.


mom2kiddos said...

It's so difficult to be the wise parent. I met a paino teacher who told me she's thankful her parents pushed her when she was learning, although she dreaded it. I do want my kids to enjoy what they do but if you don't push them sometimes, they won't know what they are capable of doing. Finding that balance is difficult.

Columba Lisa said...

I had my son take piano from a very strict, discouraging teacher for several years. He got so burned out! I wish I had stopped the lessons far sooner. I hope that he will give piano another try, but right now he won't go near it!
My son is very musical, but it isn't his primary gift. Probably the place for music in his life would be as a hobby - not his main passion. I hope that he will allow music the right place in his life.

Anonymous said...

You make some really good points about when to give up and when to keep pushing. As the mom of 6 kids, it's something I've struggled with many times. Sometimes I've pushed when I shouldn't have or given up when I should have kept going, but I'm doing better with the younger kids now being able to gauge these things. And, it would be wonderful if any of their teachers or coaches would speak to me like you did for this mother!

Visiting from voiceBoks!


mumsgather said...

Wonderful post Martha. I appreaciate your insights on this matter. You sound like a great piano teacher!

Martha said...

@mom2kiddos: that piano teacher's parents probably recognized talent in her and pushed for it. That's wise. :)Children are capable at many things, so we should choose wisely and know them well so we can encourage them in the right path.

@Lisa: A discouraging teacher is terrible, especially in the case of a musical child. As a teacher, I try to encourage, but there are times we just need to be strict too. But too many negative words and can destroy a child's love for music. Does he play by ear? If he does it'll be easy for him to find the passion again soon, or else, there's lots of instruments out there to explore.

Martha said...

@spilled milkshake, tx for visiting. :) Like you, I too struggle with this, always praying for wisdom. When do I push my child, what are my child's strengths? when is it time to back off, and let her explore something else instead. ahh.. parenting. :)

@MG: I always love your visits. :) Thanks for your words. I'm trying. I'm not always perfect..but I try my best.

Melanie said...

I loved this post. It is so true. I am also a piano teacher, and see all of those type of parents. I hope that I am the third for my own children. I know my Mom was for me. And, I loved that you wouldn't allow the aforementioned preteen to bad-mouth her Mom. Good on you! Happy I found you through vB.

Army of Moms said...

I am glad you did not tolerate the teens berating of her mom. I am hoping over form voiceboks. Following you now. Come check,out my blog at www.realarmyofmoms.com I would love you to follow me too.

Divoo said...

after reading your post, i read through the comments from other Moms... the issue you've talked about is quite important. i, as a parent, am yet to experience it, but we do talk about it. we too have our wishes... like i want San to learn some dance style, her dad wants her to learn piano... but then, we'd have to wait and see... maybe, we'd grow wiser by then... :)

Jessica said...

I put my oldest in piano lessons last summer and she liked them at first but then it got to the point where we had to push her. She lost interest in it and when school started again we took her out. She realized she enjoyed reading, running, and other activities better which was fine with us and we didn't push piano anymore.

martha said...

@Melanie: appreciate you for stopping by. Wow, a music teacher too! we could share notes sometimes! :)

@Army ofmoms, will stop by soon when I get time. tx for hoping by.

@Div: I've found though parenting books gives me advice, I can only be wiser regarding my own child through experiences. Time will give you that my dear. :)

@Jessica: You know your child best Jessica. But out of curiousity..what caused her to loose interest so quickly? was it the teacher's teaching style, perhaps choice of repertoire, or perhaps she really realised she doesn't like piano at all.

Rosann said...

This is a wonderful post! I consider myself to be a reasonably tough parent with my daughters. Not because I want to be that way, but I tend to respond in a pushy manner because I can see how smart they are. I can see their potential. But what I don't want to do is distinguish their passion by being overly pushy or by forcing them to do something I would have loved to do as a child, but they may not really enjoy all that much. There's a fine line to tread with parenting.

Thank you for this reminder. :)

Many blessings,

reanaclaire said...

As parents, we are still learning day by day.. we may think we are older and wiser but I learn to accept i am not, my kids are wiser in some thing and I found out that I still have a lot to learn from them. Well, i guess it takes some elders and youngsters to build a family! :)

productjunkiemama said...

Alot of times I tend to think that parents are the ones with the issue. They are forcing their will upon the child and in turn the child rebels. I agree with your post and hope that I do not become too pushy with my babies.
Saying hi from voiceboks and also welcoming you to our fabulous community.

CEO Mama said...

Wonderful article. My daughter has just started piano too and I will keep this good advice in mind. :)

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