Getting started is often the hardest part of any activity or job that takes energy and/or concentration. As an adult I am aware that it is much easier to continue working on a challenging task than it is to initially begin the task (think about starting your work-out. Once the exercise clothes and shoes are on, the work-out isn’t so hard to finish.) Knowing this, I can push myself through the beginning of it to get to the good stuff.
For our children, beginning a task can seem incredibly difficult, especially after they have been working hard at school all day, and would like to just go home and relax rather than do all the things that are required at home, too. I know I have trouble keeping things going in the tired part of the evening myself, and I have many years more practice at continuing to find the energy for tasks that need completing. Our children must feel like a freight train of energy is needed to get their evening tasks started.
Yelling and threats could probably work sometimes, but keeping a positive tone during the practice sessions is extremely important to me, therefore getting the practice session started without a battle is vital to the process.
Here are some tips for helping your child start their practice session.
Practice with a full tank
It may seem like a good idea to have your child practice while dinner is being made, but a hungry child trying to concentrate on practicing while the smell of food cooking is wafting through the room is not going to get much out of the practice session. If dinner preparation time coincides with practicing, I highly recommend feeding your child a snack before they get started. It won’t ruin their appetite for dinner (unless the snack is as big as the dinner) because they are working hard, and it will give them the calories in the tank they need to concentrate on practicing.
Timing is everything
By this I mean consider the best (or worst) time of day for your child’s energy level. In my family I have learned that practicing must be accomplished before dinner or it WILL NOT happen that day. After dinner my son has nothing left to give, and it is best to wait until the next day than try to push it after dinner. Your child may be different. Your child may get a second wind after dinner, and may be able to get some productive practice in.
I have found that my son does his best work in the mornings, so we do weekend practicing in the morning right after breakfast when my son’s energy is fresh. Sometimes I wish we lived closer to town, because it would probably be best if I could have him practice before school every morning. The fact that my son functions best in the morning is also why we have lessons on Saturday mornings. We tried Wednesday afternoons for a while, but he was so tired he could not concentrate well, and didn’t enjoy the lessons as much as he does on Saturday mornings. Taking the time to notice when your child’s energy is at its best and when he/she has no energy left to give will help guide you to schedule practicing at a time of day best suited to your child.
Practice before screen time
The best way to suck energy out of an evening is to turn on the TV right after school. We have a rule in our house that practicing comes before any kind of screen time. I have found that while it is possible to transition well from playing outside, or with toys inside, to practicing, it is almost impossible for my child to transition well from staring at a screen to practicing.
I am willing to bet that your household is also well aware of the perils of too much screen time. As Suzuki families with busy schedules, I am sure all of our households sit way under the national average for amount of time children sit in front of screens each day. Use this to your advantage as you continue to be conscious of mindless screen exposure.
Schedule the Practice
This strategy falls loosely under Benjamin Franklin’s “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” concept. Letting your child know the schedule for the whole day (including practice time) can help make for a smoother transition to practicing. This technique can be especially helpful if your child regularly acts like he/she is completely caught off-guard by your request to begin practicing. When you are discussing the schedule for the day, make sure your child is actively listening to the schedule by asking some questions about the day. You don’t have to quiz them about the schedule. You might approach it as if you are thinking out loud. “Let’s see….what day is it today?” “Let’s think about what we need to fit in today.” Knowing what to expect ahead of time will hopefully allow your child to have a smooth transition to practice time.
Put it on the List
This strategy goes hand in hand with the previous tip of discussing the schedule for the day. It may help to have the schedule written out. Maybe you already have a list of jobs your child needs to complete each day. Put practicing on the list. The beauty of having a written list or schedule is that it takes the pressure off of you “telling” your child what to do, and gives them some power and control over the situation as they check jobs off the list.
I have found the list method to be quite effective at our house during the summertime. I am careful to write the list in a logical order for the day, and by doing this, it helps to get practicing accomplished in the morning. The list starts the same way almost every summer day: eat breakfast, get dressed, practice cello. After those three items I write out whatever else the day has in store. This listing strategy may work particularly well with a child whose strengths are found in visual learning and/or organization.
Use a Timer
You may already be using a timer during practice sessions, but have you considered using a timer to anticipate when practice sessions will begin? This is the most reliable method of getting my son to begin practicing without complaining on an average weekday evening, especially if I give a reminder a minute or two before the time goes off.
Here’s how it works. If I am feeling pressed for time, I will ask my son if he wants the timer to go off in three, four, or five minutes. On a day when we have more time, I will give him the option of fifteen or twenty minutes before the timer sounds. He almost always chooses the longer time, but it gives him some control over the situation, and I find there is very little resistance to getting started practicing one the timer goes off.
Anticipate future activities
This idea is aligned with the “practice before screen time” concept. Having an activity that your child is looking forward to later in the day (or immediately afterwards) is a good way to motivate a child to begin practicing with a positive attitude. Sometimes that activity has something to do with screen time. Other times it may be something like a trip to the park, playing outside with trucks (can you tell I have boys?), or going to the store to pick up ingredients for a favorite treat.
You might think this approach would cause a child to rush through practicing just to get to the next activity, but most of the time I have not found this to be the case. Yes, if it is getting later in the evening after a long day, I can sense my son hoping for a short practice session, but often he approaches the practice session with a positive attitude and decent concentration. More often than not he will even go for something “extra” at the end of the practice session.
I hope you can use these tips to get your practice sessions with your child started on a positive note! Let me know in the comments which tips worked well for you, or feel free to add your own successful tips on how to get started practicing.