Parent Blog

How to Handle a Kid Who Doesn’t Want to Practice Their Musical Instrument

Dear Kid Whisperer,

My eight-year-old daughter does not enjoy practicing the piano. She has lessons once per week and is supposed to practice for thirty minutes per day. I am very busy, but I find time every day after work to sit down with her and work on piano with her. She is extremely resistant and passively aggressive, and it kind of ruins a good part of our nightly time together. Is there any way to improve this situation? I know I’m doing something wrong because the other day she was playing on her own and when I approached her and said that we would start practicing, she got upset and then didn’t want to play at all. -Marc, Phoenix, Arizona

 

Marc,

For the answer to your question, think for a moment about your own job. Imagine that every day, your boss was at your desk to greet you upon your arrival, at which point he gave you a specific instruction as to what you should be doing that day. Imagine that, immediately after the instruction was given, he told you to do it, and he told you that he would be watching constantly to make sure you did it right, and that he would be correcting each mistake as it was made in order for you to attain peak performance.

How would you feel?

How hard would you work?

How well would you complete tasks?

Would you like your boss?

Would you like your job?

The answers to these questions are obvious. You would feel terrible, hate your work, and hate your boss.

So why would your daughter feel or act any differently than you would? Your daughter probably doesn’t dislike piano—at that moment, she probably just dislikes you.

Let’s fix this.

As a general rule, avoid habitually telling kids to do things immediately, and make sure you have the least amount of presence and influence possible in the activity/practice/chore/job/etc. Here’s how I would set up your daughter’s practice time. Keep in mind I know nothing about music, and am assuming that you don’t actually need to sit with her constantly. I could be wrong, but here we go:

Kid Whisperer: Hi, Kid! How was school?

Kid: Fine.

Kid Whisperer: Great! My work was great. You know, one of the reasons my work is so good is that my boss is nice, and she respects me enough to know that I can do my work on my own. She expects me to do it, I do it, it gets done, and everyone’s happy. I realize I am not giving you the same respect when you practice piano. I’m sorry. It’s just that just seven short years ago, all you could do was cry and poop, so it’s hard for me to remember how capable you are.

Kid: Yes, I can do things!!

Kid Whisperer: I know, and I’m sorry. From now on, you can choose when you practice, as long as it all happens before dinner. Also, you can choose whether you need help. I’ll leave you alone unless you want help. Just let me know.

Kid: What if I don’t do my thirty minutes every night?

Kid Whisperer: I will continue to pay for each week’s piano lesson for kids who get their thirty minutes every night. If you choose not to do your thirty minutes, I’ll just have you pay me back for that week’s lesson. I’ll keep track for you, but I’ll keep my distance, and I’ll count good practice minutes. If you need guidance on what good practice minutes are, I am available to guide you.

The chances of non-compliance and power struggles plummet when you set up your evenings in a way that allows you to act as an objective scorekeeper, and not a nagging referee. When we fulfill Kid’s control needs and set firm, enforceable limits without lectures or warnings, we improve our relationships and our evenings.

How to Stop Your Kid From Terrorizing the Family Pet

Dear Kid Whisperer,

I am writing for my dog and my child. My three-year-old abuses my cocker spaniel. I’m sad for my dog and worried for my kid. My dog doesn’t bite, but I think she might if pushed too far. My son’s specialty is hitting my dog with various objects. We have talked to him over and over and the behavior has not improved. What’s left? -Kevin, Cleveland, Ohio

Read more

How to End Battles About Grades

Dear Kid Whisperer,

My wife and I are at our wits’ end with our 16-year-old son. He isn’t a behavior problem and never has been. The problem is that since middle school, he has basically refused to work towards anything but barely passing grades in math, and now that most science classes involve math, he’s almost failing in those classes too. His grades in every other class that do not involve math are excellent, but we want him to get into a good college, and these grades will stop him from doing that. How do we get him to turn this around? -Jason, Columbus, Ohio

Read more

How to Handle a Kid Who Causes a Scene at Daycare

Dear Kid Whisperer,

My three-year-old and my mother had a bad moment last week. My mom, who loves her granddaughter more than life itself, picked her up from daycare and my daughter, who does love her grandma, yelled at her and said she didn’t want to go with her. My mom was embarrassed and heartbroken. She didn’t know what to do. There was a big scene that lasted a while before everyone worked together to get my daughter to go with her grandmother. My mom is worried that it will happen again, and I don’t know what to tell her to do, so I’m asking you. What do I do? Alice, Nelsonville, Ohio

Read more

How to Deal With a Kid Who Intentionally Broke a House Rule

Dear Kid Whisperer,

I worry about asking this question because I don’t know if you will think this is silly or not, but because of my faith, I do not want my children to listen to the radio and listen to popular music without adult supervision. Last week my fourteen-year-old was listening to some music on her clock radio that I do not find to be acceptable. She knows she is not allowed to listen to it, but she did it anyway. What do I do about this? -Rebecca, Solon, Ohio

Read more

How to Handle a Kid You’re Afraid to Take on Vacation

Dear Kid Whisperer,

I have a twelve-year-old son. His mother (my ex-wife) and I made a lot of mistakes with him, especially when he was much younger. He has been really disruptive in the house and even violent with his younger step-brothers. We have a family vacation coming up in a couple of weeks and I’m thinking about not taking him. I would feel terrible to leave him because he loves going to the beach, but his mother is willing to keep him for the week (she’s very supportive). As of now, we think that if he does go on the vacation, he will just terrorize all of us. How should I handle this? -Scott, Columbus, Ohio

Read more

How to Support a Kid Who is Worried About the New School Year

Dear Kid Whisperer,

As my eleven-year-old returns to school, I am very concerned. I feel like he was a in a cocoon here at home for much of the last school year because of COVID, and it has affected his social development. He has a tendency to wallow a bit, and I worry about him not having a good year, both because of last year and because of his attitude. How do I avoid him getting bogged down in a funk as we enter the school year? -Trevor, Skokie, Illinois

Read more

How to Deal With a Teen Driver Who Never Comes Home on Time

Dear Kid Whisperer,

I am so stressed out. My sixteen-year-old is going to be the death of me. She has her driver’s license, and she has a car, and is pretty much always one to two hours late whenever we give her a time to be home. She doesn’t even answer her cell when we call. I’m at a loss. -Stacey, Columbus, Ohio

Read more