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“Bringing Your Gifts and Feeding a Hunger that the World Has.”—Episode 6
The following article was written by Janet Landsbury, author of No Bad Kids as well as other great books. Her perspective is useful especially when we feel the frustration that can come with parenting a young child. Hope you find it useful. Visit her page for more info and have a listen to her podcast here.
Hi, Janet, I’ve read your article Common Discipline Mistakes as well as several others involving toddler behavior, and I’m still not sure how to best handle the actions of my almost three-year-old without punishments, which usually means taking away things like his toys. For example, I will give him two acceptable options to a situation, and he will choose a third (unacceptable) option. Or I will give him a time limit, and at the end of the time, we are right back to where we started but now having lost five minutes.
At nap time recently, he pulled my glasses off my face and refused to give them back. I said give them back or I will have to take something of yours. (What are the options here?) After he refused to give them back, I pried them from his hands and put his toy on a shelf. He cried, and I left the room. My husband returned, talked to him, and gave him back his toy.
In the morning, my son and I talked about the glasses and consequences. He hasn’t done it since, but I didn’t feel very good about how I handled the situation. It’s a constant cycle of what feels like threats (if this/ then that) and taking the stuff he loves. What’s left? Thanks, Antonia
What I sense is missing here is a clear understanding of your child’s perspective and how impossible it is for him to negotiate and make “good choices” in these situations. When children are acting out, they need our help, not threats and punitive consequences. After all, we can’t reason with the unreasonable.
Our young children’s disagreeable behavior is impulsive and emotionally driven. It isn’t coming from a sensible, thoughtful place, and we can’t snap children into that place by giving them threats, consequences, and ticking clocks. Those strategies make matters worse because they give children the sense that we’re against them, which tends to make them feel even more uncomfortable, emotionally flooded, stuck. It’s as if children know they’re not doing the right thing, but they can’t find their way out of where they are, so they struggle and become even more confrontational, which we interpret as consciously “bad” behavior.
The truth is, asking a child in that state of mind to choose between compliance or a punishment is just not fair, even a little cruel. How can we expect children to respond to logic when they aren’t in their right mind? Never mind that the choice we’re offering is between two equally unpleasant alternatives. It’s no surprise that these transactions don’t make us feel good either.
Here are my recommendations for giving children the help they need using some of the examples Antonia shared regarding her son:
1.Taking away toys
I would only take a toy away if it wasn’t being used safely and would frame this as helping to provide protection: for my child, another child, the toy, the home or environment. Children will object but still feel the fairness in this, particularly if we are calm rather than annoyed or emotional. We’re noticing that they need help with self-control, and we have their back. “I need to keep you safe.” Our attitude and actions are the opposite of punitive.
2. “I will give him two acceptable options to a situation, and he will choose a third (unacceptable) option…”
He is demonstrating very clearly that he is not in a state of mind to make reasonable choices. Instead, he needs help in following your direction, whatever that is. This will often require us to do something physical like taking our children by the hand and helping them go somewhere, blocking dangerous or inappropriate behaviors, etc. Young children need a lot of physical care, so we can’t shy away or try to avoid this. Do it right away and well before getting angry or frustrated.
3. “I will give him a time limit and at the end of the time, we are right back to where we started, but now having lost five minutes…”
Right, so here again, he can’t snap into a reasonable state because there’s a clock ticking. He needs a parent who can see that he is lost and help him move forward, often that means taking calm, physical actions like picking him up and carrying him to his bedroom or out of the bathtub, etc.
4. “At nap time…”
Mm-hmm… This is prime time for challenging behavior! So be prepared, confidently walk him through what he needs to do, definitely don’t negotiate or give him choices or allow him to stall. Escort him to his bed.
5. “He pulled my glasses off my face and refused to give them back.”
Sounds like he’s saying, “Help, I’ve lost control of my impulses! I’m going to the dark side! Get me to bed soon. I’m overtired!”
6. “I said give them back, or I will have to take something of yours. (What are the options here?)”
This feels like you are dealing with a peer in a tit-for-tat rather than a tiny, overwhelmed guy who needs his mom to override his immature impulsive actions and remove the glasses from his hand right away with confidence and love. You might even joke, “That was very quick, Mr. Wiseguy!” And then help him to rest as soon as possible.
7. “I pried them from his hands after he refused to give them back and put his toy on a shelf.”
Taking them from his hands is exactly what I would do, but it’s not surprising he refused to give them back. He was already in an impulsive place when he took them from you, and children don’t usually snap out of this. Again, taking his toy is tit-for-tat and taking his behavior personally rather than seeing him as your tiny overwhelmed child.
8. “He cried, and I left the room.”
Finally, he’s expressing some of the feelings driving his behavior. This is very positive. It would be better to stay in the room with him, but not in an angry or frustrated state.
9. “My husband returned, talked to him and gave him back his toy. In the morning, my son and I talked about the glasses and consequences.”
With the understanding that unreasonable behavior comes from an unreasonable place, we will ideally forgive these incidents and let them go. It’s positive that his dad connected with him about what happened, but it’s best not to rehash or make too much of this. A comparison I’ve used is sleep walking… We wouldn’t judge, blame, and rehash behavior our child displayed while he was sleep walking. With their underdeveloped impulse control, young children are often inclined to act out of a similar lack of consciousness. So, I recommend being the “bigger” person, letting it go, and moving on.
Hopefully this perspective will help reframe expectations around typical toddler behavior. Parenting is hard work, and we all deserve to feel good about the relationships we’re building with children.
I share more about setting limits with confidence and respect in
My first sing-a-long (to the tune of “My Favorite Things”):
Wiping wet noses and nails that need clipping Changing soiled diapers and medicine sipping Sitting in car seats, injections that sting These are a few of my favorite things…
…Said no child, ever.
And since children are inclined to resist these activities, parents tend to dread them. So, in our haste to get the job done, we rush our babies through diaper changes and lunge at their snotty noses. We distract kids in order to slip them their medicine and keep them still when they need shots. We attempt to cut their nails and hair when they aren’t looking, maybe even while they sleep.
Ironically, these tactics end up creating unpleasantness and increasingthe resistance we’d hoped to avoid. Our babies learn quickly to run for the hills every time we approach them with a tissue.
But there’s a simple secret that eases the pain of these mundane duties and can even (hard as this may be to believe) transform them into enjoyable times of connection.
The secret for enlisting our children’s cooperation is the same for all aspects of successful parenting: respect. Newborns, infants, toddlers, preschoolers — people of all ages — want to be engaged with, included and invited to participate rather than have things done to them. Who can blame them?
Life can seem overwhelming to young children. The more they know going in, the more likely they’ll view an activity positively and be able to rise to the occasion.
We inform children two ways: 1) by developing predictable daily routines so they know what to expect; and 2) by talking honestly about everything that will happen (at the doctor’s office, for example) ahead of time.
“Predictability is habit forming. Developing habits makes it much easier to live with rules. Because very young children do not understand the reasons behind the rules they are expected to follow, it is better if these rules become simply a matter of course. There are some things we do not need or want to re-examine every time we do them, such as brushing our teeth.” – Magda Gerber, Dear Parent – Caring for Infants With Respect
2. Don’t interrupt
Respect your child’s play and other chosen activities. Don’t interrupt unless absolutely necessary. Oftentimes, we realize that the runny nose or wet diaper can wait until the child is finished, or at least has a bit more time. Again, prepare children: “In a few minutes it will be time to change into your PJ’s, brush teeth and chose a book.”
“If a child has ample opportunity to play independently, without interruption, he is likely to be much more willing to cooperate with the demands of his parent.” – Gerber
3. Communicatewith even the youngest infants
Children are whole people from birth and we encourage their participation and partnership in tasks when we speak to them honestly and directly: “I need to wipe your nose with this tissue. Please keep your head still for a moment.”
4. Offer autonomy
Let your child do it or at least try. What’s there to lose? You might be amazed by your baby’s nose wiping talents. Children toddler age and older feel more autonomous when we offer them choices: “Would you like to take your medicine now or after lunch?” “Which fingernail shall we clip first?”
But beware of false choices. It might seem more polite and respectful to ask children, “Can I give you your medicine now?” but only if all options are acceptable to us.
5. Slow everything down
Slow down movements, words and the time in between them. The younger the child, the more time they need to process our words.
“One can further enhance the child’s sense of himself as a decision-maker by allowing enough time to elapse after requesting something, so that the child can decide on his own whether or not to cooperate.” – Gerber
6. Don’t multitask
Children need our undivided attention during these cooperative activities. Pay attention, connect and encourage children to do the same.
If we are approaching the situation respectfully and our children still resist or object, acknowledge their feelings and point-of-view.“You are turning your head away. You don’t want me to dry your nose with the tissue. I’ll wait a little for you to be ready.”
When, despite our respectful attitude, children refuse to cooperate and we must force the (t)issue, it’s even more crucial that we acknowledge their disagreement or anger. “You didn’t like that. It upset you.”
8. Give thanks
Thank children for helping rather than offering empty “good job” praise. Acknowledge accomplishments and progress: “Now you are able to brush your own teeth!”
Chelsea shared how she ended a “spoon fight” with her 10-month-old baby by communicating with him respectfully, slowing down, and offering him autonomy:
“Every time I tried to give our baby pureed food he would reach for the spoon and hold on to it so tight that his knuckles would turn white. I would get so annoyed and would try to peel it from his hands. Feedings were getting more and more stressful. I thought the only solution would be offering more finger foods, but there were times when I needed to give him puréed food.
About a month ago I had my ‘a-ha’ moment and realized I was approaching this all wrong. I asked for the spoon. He didn’t give it to me, but he did eventually drop it. I asked if it was for me. He stared. I reached for it and explained I would put more food on the spoon and give it back.
Over the next few meals we started to master giving the spoon to each other. Now he gives the spoon — no big deal — and not only the spoon, now he likes to give me everything, rocks, toys, whatever!
Mealtime has changed 100%, and I feel like my boy actually enjoys giving to others when he wants to! Thank you for all the time you put into your Facebook page and blog. It has help me as a parent so much.
Here’s a video of our breakfast this morning…”
Thank you for allowing me to share your story, Chelsea!
How do you know if you have a good Suzuki teacher?
The following article was taken from Paula E Bird’s blog. Paula offers a treasure trove of ideas for teaching, learning, and parenting in the Suzuki style. For more information, click on over to Paula Bird’s Blog.
Here are the points I recommend to parents when they are searching for a good Suzuki teacher:
(1) Ask your friends for referrals. Nothing speaks better about a teacher than a satisfied customer. Also, your teacher should have a good reputation in the community. Music stores and other teachers can offer recommendations as well. Don’t hesitate to ask for recommendations.
(2) Ask the teacher what Suzuki teacher training they have taken and where. A teacher who has attended teacher training courses will not hesitate to tell you this information. If the teacher fudges with the answer or says something like, “I was raised as a Suzuki violin student,” please be aware that this is not the same thing. I have been taking lessons since I was 3 years old. There is much that I do not remember from my learning experience, and that is certainly going to be true for others as well.
(3) Ask if the teacher has a group class. A true Suzuki teacher understands the value of including a group class in the curriculum. It’s OK if the classes meet just a few times per month or if more than one teacher teaches the classes. The important thing is that there is a group class.
(4) Ask if you can observe the teacher in a lesson or group class situation. I never have any problem with this.
(5) Find out what other experience your teacher has with regard to performing. After all, your teacher will serve as a performance model for your child, so it is important that you have found a teacher who will be a good model.
One word of advice: be sure you pick your teacher because of value. Do not pick a teacher based on convenience or cost. Because a teacher will come to your home, or lives near by, or is inexpensive is not a good reason to select a teacher! Remember, your teacher will become a very important part of your lives. You want the very best you can afford for your child. Please select a teacher because they are qualified and experienced and will be a good fit for your family.
Noa Kageyama is the author of the blog The Bulletproof Musician. Here, he offers advice to musicians about practicing, managing nerves, and much more. You might find articles written by other musicians, psychologists and neuroscientists studying how we learn, develop focus, work under pressure and more. The following is an article taken from Noa’s blog. Click on over here to see more of his great work.
How Many Hours a Day Should I Practice?
2 hours? 4 hours? 8 hours? 12 hours?
How much is enough?
Is there such a thing as practicing too much?
Is there an optimal number of hours that one should practice?
What Do Performers Say?
Some of the great artists of the 20th century have shared their thoughts on these questions. I seem to recall reading an interview with Rubinstein years ago, in which he stated that nobody should have to practice more than four hours a day, explaining that if you needed to practice more than four hours a day, you probably weren’t doing it right.
Heifetz also indicated that he never believed in practicing too much, and that excessive practice is “just as bad as practicing too little!” He claimed that he practiced no more than three hours per day on average, and that he didn’t practice at all on Sundays. You know, this is not a bad idea – one of my own teachers, Donald Weilerstein, once suggested that I establish a 24-hour period of time every week where I was not allowed to pick up my instrument.
What Do Psychologists Say?
When it comes to understanding expertise and expert performance, psychologist Dr. K. Anders Ericsson is perhaps the world’s leading authority. His research is the basis for the “ten-year rule” and “10,000-hour rule” which suggest that it requires at least ten years and/or 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to achieve an expert level of performance in any given domain — and in the case of musicians, often closer to 25 years in order to attain an elite international level. Note that the real key here is not the amount of practice required (as the exact number of hours is debatable) but the type of practice required to attain an expert level of performance. In other words, just practicing any old way doesn’t cut it.
Have you ever listened to someone practice? Have you ever listened to yourself practice, for that matter? Tape yourself practicing for an hour, take a walk through the practice room area at school and eavesdrop on your fellow students, or ask your students to pretend they are at home and watch them practice during a lesson. What do you notice?
You’ll notice that the majority of folks practice rather mindlessly, either engaging in mere repetition (“practice this passage 10 times” or “practice this piece for 30 minutes”) or practicing on autopilot (that’s when we play through the piece until we hear something we don’t like, stop, repeat the passage again until it sounds better, and resume playing through the piece until we hear the next thing we aren’t satisfied with, at which point we begin this whole process over again).
There are three major problems with the mindless method of practicing.
1. It is a waste of time
Why? For one, very little productive learning takes place when we practice this way. This is how we can practice a piece for hours, days, or weeks, and still not feel that we’ve improved all that much. Even worse, you are actually digging yourself a hole by practicing this way, because what this model of practicing does do is strengthen undesirable habits and errors, literally making it more likely that you will screw up more consistently in the future. This makes it more difficult to correct these habits in the future — so you are actually adding to the amount of future practice time you will need in order to eliminate these bad habits and tendencies. I once worked with a saxophone professor who was fond of reminding his students that “Practice doesn’t make perfect, practice makes permanent.”
2. It makes you less confident
In addition, practicing this way actually hurts your confidence, as there is a part of you that realizes you don’t really know how to consistently produce the results you are looking for. Even if you establish a fairly high success rate in the most difficult passages via mindless practice, and find that you can nail it 3 or 4 out of every 5 attempts, your confidence won’t grow much from this. Real on-stage confidence comes from (a) being able to nail it 10 out of 10 tries, (b) knowing that this isn’t a coincidence but that you can do it the correct way on demand, because most importantly (c) you know precisely why you nail it or miss it — i.e. you know exactly what you need to do from a technique standpoint in order to play the passage perfectly every time.
You may not be able to play it perfectly every time at first, but this is what repetition is for — to reinforce the correct habits until they are stronger than the bad habits. It’s a little like trying to grow a nice looking lawn. Instead of fighting a never-ending battle against the weeds, your time is better spent trying to cultivate the grass so that over time the grass crowds out the weeds.
And here’s the biggie. We tend to practice unconsciously, and then end up trying to perform consciously — not a great formula for success. Recall from this article that you have a tendency to shift over into hyper-analytical left brain mode when you walk out on stage. Well, if you have done most of your practicing unconsciously, you really don’t know how to play your piece perfectly on demand. When your brain suddenly goes into full-conscious mode, you end up freaking out, because you don’t know what instructions to give your brain.
3. It is tedious and boring
Practicing mindlessly is a chore. Music may be one of the only skill-based activities where practice goals are measured in units of time. We’ve all had teachers who tell us to go home and practice a certain passage x number of times, or to practice x number of hours, right? What we really need are more specific outcome goals — such as, practice this passage until it sounds like _____, or practice this passage until you can figure out how to make it sound like _____.
After all, it doesn’t really matter how much time we spend practicing something — only that we know how to produce the results we want, and can do so consistently, on demand.
So what is deliberate, or mindful practice? Deliberate practice is a systematic and highly structured activity, which is, for lack of a better word, scientific. Instead of mindless trial and error, it is an active and thoughtful process of experimentation with clear goals and hypotheses. Violinist Paul Kantor once said that the practice room should be like a laboratory, where one can freely tinker with different ideas, both musical and technical, to see what combination of ingredients produces the result you are looking for.
Deliberate practice is often slow, and involves repetition of small and very specific sections of your repertoire instead of just playing through (e.g. working on just the opening note of your solo to make sure that it “speaks” exactly the way you want, instead of playing the entire opening phrase).
Deliberate practice involves monitoring one’s performance (in real-time, but also via recordings), continually looking for new ways to improve. This means really listening to what happens, so that you can tell yourself exactly what went wrong. For instance, was the first note note sharp? Flat? Too loud? Too soft? Too harsh? Too short? Too long?
Let’s say that the note was too sharp and too long with not enough of an attack to begin the note. Well, how sharp was it? A little? A lot? How much longer was the note than you wanted it to be? How much more of an attack did you want?
Ok, the note was a little sharp, just a hair too long, and required a much clearer attack in order to be consistent with the marked articulation and dynamics. So, why was the note sharp? What did you do? What do you need to do to make sure the note is perfectly in tune every time? How do you ensure that the length is just as you want it to be, and how do you get a consistently clean and clear attack to begin the note so it begins in the right character?
Now, let’s imagine you recorded all of this and could listen to how this last attempt sounded. Does that combination of ingredients give you the desired result? In other words, does that combination of ingredients convey the mood or character you want to communicate to the listener as effectively as you thought it would?
Few musicians take the time to stop, analyze what went wrong, why it happened, and how they can correct the error permanently.
How Many Hours a Day Should I Practice?
You will find that deliberate practice is very draining, given the tremendous amount of energy required to keep one’s full attentional resources on the task at hand. Practicing more than one hour at a time is likely to be unproductive and in all honesty, probably not even mentally or emotionally possible. Even the most dedicated individuals will find it difficult to practice more than four hours a day.
Studies have varied the length of daily practice from 1 hour to 8 hours, and the results suggest that there is often little benefit from practicing more than 4 hours per day, and that gains actually begin to decline after the 2-hour mark. The key is to keep tabs on the level of concentration you are able to sustain.
5 Keys For More Effective Practice
Keep practice sessions limited to a duration that allows you to stay focused. This may be as short as 10-20 minutes for younger students, and as long as 45-60 minutes for older individuals.
Keep track of times during the day when you tend to have the most energy. This may be first thing in the morning, or right before lunch, etc. Try to do your practicing during these naturally productive periods as these are the times at which you will be able to focus and think most clearly.
Try using a practice notebook. Keep track of your practice goals and what you discover during your practice sessions. The key to getting into the “zone” when practicing is to be constantly striving to have clarity of intention. In other words, to have a clear idea of the sound you want to produce, or particular phrasing you’d like to try, or specific articulation, intonation, etc. that you’d like to be able to execute consistently.
When you figure something out, write it down. As I practiced more mindfully, I began learning so much during practice sessions that if I didn’t write everything down, I’d forget.
4. Smarter, not harder
Sometimes if a particular passage is not coming out the way we want it to, it just means we need to practice more. There are also times, however, when we don’t need to practice harder, but need an altogether different strategy or technique.
I remember struggling with the left-hand pizzicato variation in Paganini’s 24th Caprice. I was getting frustrated and kept trying harder and harder to make the notes speak, but all I got was sore fingers, a couple of which actually started to bleed. I realized that there had to be a smarter, more effective way to accomplish my goal.
Instead of stubbornly keeping at a strategy or technique that wasn’t working for me, I forced myself to stop practicing this section altogether. I tried to brainstorm different solutions to the problem for a day or so, and wrote down ideas to try as they occurred to me. When I felt that I came up with some promising solutions, I just started experimenting. I eventually came up with a solution that I worked on over the next week or so, and when I played the caprice for my teacher, he actually asked me how I made the notes speak so clearly!
It doesn’t matter if we are talking about perfecting technique, or experimenting with different musical ideas. Any model which encourages smarter, more systematic, active thought, and clearly articulated goals will help cut down on wasted, ineffective practice time.
After all, who wants to spend all day in the practice room? Get in, get stuff done, and get out.