A large percentage of parents are not aware of how influential they can be when it comes to their child learning guitar. They unfortunately believe that if their child doesn’t just love practicing guitar then it’s not meant to be. That is like saying your child doesn’t like healthy food and will only eat cake and ice cream so they are just destined to become obese. The human race evolved over 2 million years and 99.99% of that time we lived in caves and did little more than hunt for food. Unfortunately many of our instincts are primitive and out of date. As one scientist put it, we are living in a version 1.0 body but living in a version 2.0 or 3.0 world. We need an upgrade.
Parenting and education in today’s world
Many parents I speak to are frustrated with their children especially when it comes to learning something like guitar. They can’t understand why the kids have to be told to practice. After all their child wants to play and even asked for the guitar yet they have to be pushed to do any kind of practice at all. Well I am sorry to say but our children are not going to want to do the practice in almost every case. This is not because they don’t like guitar. In most cases they really want to play guitar they just don’t want to practice. To help parents to understand this I am going to share below a report I recently did for a guitar teacher based on my observation. I was fortunate to be able to sit in on the lesson on the teacher’s request and as you will see the problem he is having with his student is not about the student but about the parent.
My report for the guitar teacher
There are many subtle things here to observe. Firstly the mother was looking stern indicating that she was ready to give up on her son. It was that look of “He doesn’t want to do it so I am not going to force him.” I would predict that the mother will be stopping the lessons soon unless the situation changes quickly. She is thinking that the problem is her son and there is nothing you or she can do about it. It’s a self fulling prophecy. She believes he will quit and is just waiting for the right moment to stop the lessons.
So what is the solution?
From the beginning of the lesson you directed most of your attention to the young boy asking him about the practice and doing deals with him to practice 10 mins a day. The mother was looking sternly and nodding in agreement but this was reinforcing that she was not accountable.The mother (not the son) is the person who needs to be mostly accountable. The accountability should be distributed roughly on a percentage basis based on age. This is not an exact science but a 5 year old is not accountable at all. You can then add 10% for each year so a 10 year old is 50% accountable and a 15 yo should be 100% accountable. This means you need to be directing the conversation to the mother. Asking her what happened and why. Be specific, never vague looking for the exact inflection points where things went wrong.
What you should do.
Ask her to demonstrate what happens at home. Find out where the problem is exactly. Be careful not to give general advice. Saying you want him to practice 20 mins a day is general advice. Specific advice is taking the mother through the whole routine from start to finish that she will need to do at home. It’s important to isolate the problem first and then demonstrate what you want her to do. When she said he was flipping around from one thing to another and saying he was bored get her to demonstrate how she works with him at home. You will soon see where the problem is.
A common problem is the parent doesn’t use leverage. In other words there is no consequence for the child if they don’t practice. Parents apply leverage to all sorts of things like not doing homework or not eating vegetable etc yet when it comes to guitar they seem to overlook this concept. The mother needs to trade guitar minutes with game playing minutes, TV or iPad time etc. No guitar, no entertainment. The more guitar practice the more fun time he gets. She needs to get tough and be consistent with this. If he is not willing to do the practice then he goes with out but he will soon comply I guarantee you. At night time before my daughter goes to bed my wife would ask her to go to the bathroom. I noticed every night it was a battle between my daughter and wife. I thought to myself there must be a better way so what I did was told my daughter that if she went to the bathroom now she could watch 10 mins of her favourite DVD before bed. Works like a charm every time. In fact now she runs to the bathroom. It’s all about understanding what motivates children.
Teaching the parent to teach
When you were instructing the boy the mother had left the room. This is when she needed to be there and to be seeing how it’s done. Next time get her involved at this point. Let her instruct her son and build her confidence to guide her son. You are essentially training the mother how to coach her son at home and this is what will make all the difference. Empowering her means you have now extended yourself to the home without being there so everybody wins.
‘It’s just the way he is’ mindset.
The mother believes her son is the problem and that he is just not focused. She believes it’s just his personality and can’t be fixed. What she needs to know is almost all children are like this. He is not different. It’s human nature and this has been shown scientifically. We humans are lazy but that’s because our brains use up a large amount of our energy for it’s size. In fact the largest of all animals with brains. Our brain uses 20% of our energy but only accounts for 5% of our body mass. This means when we learn/think we use energy. Before modern times food was scarce and our bodies had to conserve energy. Being lazy was about conserving energy for when we needed it. Children naturally burn physical energy as this is part of growing and they learn of course but concentrated learning requires the use of the pre-frontal cortex. PFC. For children the PFC is still under development so the energy required to learn something like guitar feels tiring. The good news is the brain becomes more efficient through routine. When children learn to focus on learning guitar the effort required to continue learning guitar gets easier.
The truth about child prodigies
The difference between children who succeed and those who don’t are almost always parents. Mozart’s father was responsible for his talent as was Tiger Woods’s father and Venus and Serena William’s father and Van Halen’s parents and so on and so on. Talented children do sometimes spring out of nowhere but it’s rare. The mother needs to understand this fact as this will empower her. She will realise that the kid at school who is top of the class in reading is probably that way because the parents did not allow their child to watch TV before doing the reading. Parents who are strict about putting education before entertainment are the ones who have the so-called exceptional children. It’s the parents who are the exception.
I hope that helps.