The Piano Parent Trap!

"My 6 year old daughter really loves the piano and wants to learn to play, but when I try to help her she gets very upset with me. What should I do?"

The parent who asked the above question has fallen into a hole that I call The Piano Parent Trap!

If this is you, you don't have to feel bad. In fact you should be flattered! This is just a problem of conflicting needs. The role of Mom or Dad is very important to the emotional security of children. Your acceptance and approval is everything to them! When parents move out of the parental role into the role of piano teacher, young children can become confused and anxious. The expectations of children are that Mom and Dad will always play the specific role needed to protect their emotional security. Because children must have their emotional needs met to feel loved and secure before they can learn, they may refuse to allow a parent to be "the piano teacher," even when they want to learn. And surprisingly, the child who really wants to play the piano may resist a parent's help even more! So, how does a parent get out of this trap? It's not really that hard. Here are two key things you can do.

1. Find the right piano teacher. Look for a piano teacher you feel your child will be comfortable with. This decision should never be based solely on location and price -- those are important to your convenience, but they tell you nothing about the lessons your child will receive. You should talk with the teacher to get an understanding of how they will work with your child and the type of programs they offer. You should look for a teacher with a warm enthusiastic personality that inspires confidence, and they should go out their way to say, "I want to be your child's piano teacher!" If upon your interview you don't get this message, keep on looking. Remember, piano teachers are not selling a product, they are the product! The right teacher for your child is someone who will build a supportive relationship that challenges your child to do their best.

2. Be supportive, but don't try to be in control. From the time your child approached the age of two they most likely have been sending you the same conflicting message over and over: "I need you ? Let me do it myself!" Get used to this because it isn't optional and it doesn't really go away when kids get older-- it just comes with the package! There are, however, a couple of options you do have that involve your making a choice. I'll lay it out for you simply. Your choices are between Door Number One and Door Number Two. If you should choose Door Number One, you are in control. If you should choose Door Number Two, you are in charge.

Now you might be thinking this is some kind of a joke -- they are the same door! But not so, they are very different! A Door Number One approach requires you to make all choices for your child without their participation in the decision, such as when they should do their piano practice, what songs they should try to learn, and how fast they should progress. However, because this approach ignores children's need for independence, they will fight for this control ? they may actively resist practicing at your appointed time, or could act totally passively and claim that they are just unable to learn new skills.

In contrast, a Door Number Two approach recognizes children's needs for independence but provides needed support and guidance. It allows children to make choices among options you identify for them, which lets them "do it themselves" while still receiving needed protection. As a result, here is your real choice in basic terms: Behind Door Number One lurks a hungry lion, while a happy child and family are behind Door Number Two!

3. Guide your child by following an authoritative, not an authoritarian approach.

An authori-tarian approach teaches power and control. In contrast to this approach, an authori-tative model teaches ownership and responsibility. These differences can be seen in the following descriptions.

Authoritarian approach

? Parent is in control -- child is powerless.

? Child believes parents and other adults are in control them.

? Child believes others are responsible for their behavior.

? Child waits for others who know more than they do to tell them what to.

? Child is passive and does not assert their opinions and ideas or take initiative, or is very angry and acts out! Or, is passive and later becomes very angry!

Authoritative approach

? Parent is in charge of setting appropriate consequences for their child's behaviors.

? Child has the choice to make reasonable decisions within protected limits where they can learn from their mistakes.

? Child learns they are responsible for the consequences of their choices and learns to take initiative and trusts their ability to make intelligent decisions and act responsibly.

? Child learns to be assertive and can ask adults for information and guidance when making important decisions, but accepts ownership and responsibility for their actions and decisions.

How can you start to use an authoritative approach to get out of the Parent Trap and open "Door Number Two?"

An easy way is to reverse roles. For example, after your child comes home from piano lessons, ask them to teach you what they've learned because you want to learn it too! This lets your child be in control as they share their special piano knowledge with you. Kids can't resist this. It's just so much fun to be the teacher, and children love to reverse roles! Your young teacher will probably even correct your playing, and tell you that you're doing it all wrong, especially if you play "their song" perfectly! So, be wiling to make a few silly mistakes that your little teacher can have fun correcting. Just don't get defensive. I can guarantee you'll get a lot of mileage out of this strategy!

Copyright 2005, Cynthia Marie VanLandingham

Cynthia VanLandingham is the owner of TallyPiano & Keyboard Studio in Tallahassee, Florida where she has been teaching piano for 20 years. She is a member of the American College of Musicians, the National Guild of Piano Teachers, a graduate of the Florida State University College of Education, and President of TallyPiano Enterprises, LLC. You can visit her website and download her original compositions free at http://www.tallypiano.com. Cynthia is also an author of a series of exciting books for children, with the mission of Using Music, Art, Science and Literature to Help Children Achieve their Dreams. Her illustrated series for piano students is called, Little Bear's Piano Adventures!TM These stories take young piano students on a Musical Adventure to find out what piano lessons are all about in a fun way that children can easily understand. For more information about these wonderful books E-mail Cynthia at [email protected], where you can also subscribe to her free internet newsletter, Piano Matters!

TallyPiano Studio: (850) 386-2425
Hotline: (850) 264-7232

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