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Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Pet Peeve #1

Written by Paula E. Bird ©2013

I try to focus on positive things. Admittedly, there are days, weeks, and even months when I struggle with this character issue, but I decided a while back that focusing on positive things yielded a more pleasant life than focusing on negatives. So I hesitate to start a post thread about negative things, and yet I find that there may be some areas to which parents and teachers need to pay attention. So, I have decided to start a "Pet Peeves" subject. I intend to periodically add a pet peeve to cyberspace and this blog so that parents and teachers can be more mindful of the harmful aspects to what is probably a singularly innocuous detail in our daily lives.

Let me start out today's subject matter by making this observation: a journey starts with a single step. I did not come up with this phrase. The phrase has been around for a very long time and has appeared as many different paraphrases. The sentence idea is ascribed to Lao-tzu, the Chinese philosopher (604-532 BC) and his The Way of Lao-tzu. My point in citing the phrase here is to remind us that even the little things we do today will add up to a bigger sum later. If I take a small step every day, I will eventually reach another destination. If I declutter my house 15 minutes every day (and keep it decluttered as I go), then my house will eventually be decluttered. If I practice a little bit with my child every day, then the time I spend with my child in practice will add up to learned skills.

Put another way, as I have heard Tony Robbins speak of it on YouTube (click here to watch Tony), tiny changes mean huge results, and that often we are merely one millimeter off where we need to be to produce a massive result later. If we focus on the millimeter changes that we can make on the front end, we will enjoy the fruit of major results later. If we adopt one small health habit today, such as taking a daily walk of one mile or substituting fruit for a sugary snack, then we will reap the major changes over time. If a parent practices a little bit with her child every day, then the time that the parent spends with the child in practice will add up to learned skills.

So it is with this result in mind that I bring one of my pet peeves to your attention. Last week I gave a lesson to a young, 7 year old student. We had a difficult lesson. I struggled throughout the lesson with a variety of unpleasant behaviors from the child. The child took forever to follow instructions. I used a timer to encourage her to get ready faster, but still she averaged about 15-30 seconds in between tasks instead of the two seconds she had done in the past. She performed several overly dramatic gestures every time she did anything, and by "overly dramatic" I mean she acted like the tragic heroine of "Macbeth," spoke in capital letters, used a lot of exclamation points, and whirled around herself and around her instrument. She managed to whack me with her bow twice, and I am not sure whether those incidents were accidental or purposeful, although mom took the intentional road. The mom sternly rebuked the child on both occasions, with the second time yielding the strongest scolding. This did not help an otherwise unpleasant situation.

Nevertheless, we managed to get through the lesson and complete the items that I had intended to do. I taught the child a new song that we had learned in the child's group class the previous weekend. (Aside: the child did not attend the past two group classes, and I was teaching her what she had missed so that she would stay up to speed for class in the future). We worked together on the child's newest song, Lightly Row, and we did two of the Twinkle variations and worked to polish a rhythmic issue in one of them. So I was pleased that we had accomplished as much as we had, although we could have done more. The whirling, broad gestures, and dawdling behaviors were annoying to the adults, but I managed to work around or through them. It was not my best lesson by a long shot, but we made progress. This child is difficult to work with in many respects, and there are some other dynamics going on in her personal life that would explain some of the difficulties we have during lessons. Still, my pet peeve is yet to come.

When we reached the end of the lesson, I took a few moments to note the child's practice points on the studio chart. This is the time when I go through the child's practice handbook and put a star on the studio chart for every three days that the child has practiced. Imagine my surprise to discover that the child's practice handbook had only enough notations for one studio practice star. That means that the child did something over three days, BUT, I had to search over the child's handbook for the past two weeks to find enough days noted, and this included the day's lesson I had given.

I thought at first that the mom had forgotten to note practices. Sometimes that happens. Moms get busy too, and since they know the practice routine, they go ahead and practice but forget to mark the child's practice handbook. They usually fill it in right before the lesson begins or during the lesson. I am a stickler that they mark something in the book so that the child can get "credit" for the work the child did during the week.

No, the mom had not forgotten to note the practices. There were only two in the two-week period, and those two practices occurred TWO WEEKS AGO. That means for about 10 days, the child had done nothing with the violin. I thought for a moment. No, there was no holiday break. There was no family emergency. The child had not been sick. The mother had not been sick. The child had been at the mother's home and at the child's school during the week and at the child's other parent's home during the weekends. In other words, THERE WAS NO EXCUSE for the child not practicing. Sorry for the excitement, but the child's dramatic behaviors influenced me. The mother confirmed with me that what I saw in the handbook was actually what had occurred in the past two weeks. What did I say at that point?

"Well, that is why she behaved this way at her lesson today."

Seriously? Parents do not understand this? Parents do not see this? If the child has no preparation at home, no exercise on the material that the teacher has taught to the child during lessons, then how can we expect the child to remember this lesson in the weeks that follow? How does the parent remember the material without practice in the intervening days between lessons? How can we expect the child to behave with assurance if the child never plays the instrument in ten days? And then we scold and rebuke the child because the child does not know how to behave?

That is my pet peeve #1, that we blame the child for something that the adults did or did not do. If we want the child to practice, then the parent is responsible to make that happen. If we want the child to take a bath, brush his teeth, eat healthy food, pick up toys, go to school, do homework, learn how to play the violin, then that is what PARENTS must make sure happens. Parents cannot ignore this fundamental fact. Parents are the adults in the relationship and are the responsible parties to make sure that these child development issues take place. We cannot and should not expect that a child will have the maturity and understanding to make and act on these types of decisions on the child's own initiative. That is why we have parents in the world.

OK, there, I have said it. Yes, this is a strong message, but by golly, this is a strong message. I have a very strong expectation that parents will be parents. I expect that parents will do the job that parents signed up for when parents decided to have a child, and that is to be a parent!

Pet Peeve #1: Do not blame the child for not behaving in a way that the parent has not taught the child to behave.

Solution: If the parent wants the child to behave appropriately at lessons, the parent must be sure that the child has had plenty of opportunities to practice the appropriate behavior at home in the intervening time between lessons. The parent must role model the appropriate behavior for the child so that the child will learn the behavior.

So, let us go forth and be better parents and teachers!

Happy Role Modeling!

PS (Followup): The student came to the next lesson and proudly announced that she had practiced every single day since her previous lesson. The mother had a brief conversation with the student to remind her of an earlier discussion about behavior during the lesson, and then we had our lesson. I happened to use my Twinkle Toes board game that I had recently purchased from I played along with my student as one of the game variations, but when I played along, I became "Mrs. Messy," as my friend Sue Hunt suggests (, and my student corrected me. She was quite good at it too. My student and I had a very productive and fun lesson. Now THAT is the way it should be done every time!


  1. Okay, TOTALLY share the pet peeve! Thanks for showing me I'm not the only one out there. lol

    1. I got an email from someone accusing me of stealing one of their students.

      This mom is actually a terrific mom. She was having a bad week or two there I think. She's back on track. She's one of my favorite moms to work with. Her daughter can be a pistol though.

  2. As someone wiser than me said once: "If you don't trust you 13-year-old to drive, why do you expect your 5-year-old to take responsibility for practicing?"

    1. HAHA, beter yet, 5 years olds definitely don't drive!

  3. I hear ya. Another variation on this is that I'll tell them to practice a particular technique, they tell me they practiced that week and then I ask the student to show me the technique. The student struggles, the parent rebukes for not doing the technique. "Well, we practiced!" And then I'll ask them if they practiced that PARTICULAR technique. "Well, no, but we practiced every day!"

    **Hits head on the wall**

  4. There really is a connection between bad behavior and the fact that they know they are not prepared.

    I had one student with constant bad behavior. He is about 7 years old. I think he is frustrated because a sibling always plays and does everything better on the same grede level so one week I just said "OK, We are not doing this anymore. I know you are not a lazy boy" and I repeated that several times. Next time he was prepared. I was surprised and very happy and with a little tweeking he is doing well now.

    1. Yes, I agree with you. I have noticed that when students are not prepared by practicing during the week, there are problems in behavior during the lesson. I wish more parents would understand this. Whenever a parent complains to me of difficulties at home, I usually suggest that the parent step up the listening sessions at home and add to the amount of practicing, especially establishing a routine and schedule. The problems usually disappear by the next week, parents tell me.

    2. I have noticed that, too!! Practicing is SO SO important. :)