One of the challenges of being a parent is figuring out how much to help one’s child. All of us are eager to come to the aid of our children and do everything in our power to help them succeed. But we also know, that part of the success of whatever the endeavor is about, depends on our children doing for themselves what they are able to do and us letting them do it, even though at times it is frustrating and even painful to watch them struggle.
So what does this have to do with learning to play the piano? Actually a great deal. As parents you play a vital role in helping your child learn but sometimes it is hard to know what that role is exactly. In truth, your way of helping will change as your child grows and matures and is able to do more for themselves. But in any stage, what is important is that the child be taking at least some ownership and that ownership will continue to grow until it becomes completely their own.
In practical terms this is generally what the partnership of parent/child in terms of learning to play the piano will look like. For the first two to three years, the parent will be more involved, attending lessons, supervising the practicing at least for the majority of the time and helping to create solid habits that will pay off in the years ahead. Above all, this means carving out the scheduled practice time so that the young child is not left with trying to accomplish something for which there is in truth no time to do it.
Usually by the fourth year a student is able to manage their time somewhat and a parent’s job will change slightly. What is crucial during this season, is that again the parent helps to create the schedule, but it is the child’s responsibility to live out that schedule. What is extremely wearing on everyone is having to constantly “nag” a child to do the practicing. That is not the parent’s job nor is it helpful or productive. The parent’s job is to sit down with their child and to agree together when the practicing will take place for that week and also the consequences of not fulfilling their commitment (withdrawal of certain privileges is usually effective) and then let the child remember their own commitments. It is common in this “middle period” of learning for a child to want to shift over to their parents the responsibility for reaching their goals. It is hard for them to hang onto why they wanted to learn to play in the first place and they begin to think that it is all their parents’ idea. Your job is to remind them that they made a commitment, they are to see it through and that they can do it. This is such a valuable life lesson, in that all of us get discouraged part way through a big endeavor and want to quit. What keeps us going? Often it’s having someone “hold our feet to the fire” and also encourage but not take on the actual responsibility. That belongs to us and us alone just as our children need to carry their own backpack with their choices in it.
This process of helping to create the schedule, encouraging, and not entertaining the “quitting” notion midstream, will continue throughout the high school years but more and more you will see your student take ownership of their own choices and by doing that find more satisfaction in the results. Your joy will be in seeing your child with amazing life skills earned through years of persistent effort that they could not have accomplished without your guidance and vision.