Help for me and for Life Coach… Student wants to quit
I’ve been teaching for about 8 months, and I’ve lost 3 students so far, all of whom I agreed it was the best decision that they not continue lessons with me. I have 7 other very happy students… and now one who wants to quit.
Her mom is just amazing. She called me yesterday to tell me what is going on with her daughter (11 years old, just started middle school). She had just a couple of lessons through the summer, and she just doesn’t want to play any more and is refusing to practice. She will be starting on Level 3 in her next group lesson. There are only 3 kids in her group… one of the students who quit was in her group, and I recently replaced that girl with someone else, so they are still at 3. Her mom didn’t think that the transition is what is affecting her. She just won’t practice, and it’s causing tension between them. Mom called to ask me what she should do. She really wants her daughter to continue lessons.
I reminded the mom of the Relationship Conversation and let her know that this is completely normal and expected. She and I are both those kids whose moms let us quit, and then as adults we wished we would have stuck with it, so we really get that. As we talked about the opportunity to teach our kids through these challenges, she related it to a hike they went on… They were almost to the end of the hike and knew they couldn’t make it any further… wanted to quit… “I don’t see anything great up there. How do we know we’re almost there? It hurts. I don’t think I can go any further…” and then when you get to the top of the mountain (or to whatever the destination is), you see that it really was worth the struggle, and now the struggle doesn’t seem like it was that hard. Isn’t that a great analogy?
While I know this is normal and expected, my heart hurts for my sweet student. I know that she loves to play, and she plays with such emotion. And her mom is very committed to this long-term. She is, in fact, the very first person who asked me if I taught piano lessons and was the reason I started teaching. I also want to address this honestly in the group without embarrassing her, but letting the other families know that this relationship thing is real, and they will get there, too… so let’s navigate through it together.
I know we have great resources for this issue, and I would also love to hear from some of you amazing teachers out there… How can I help this mom to encourage her daughter without it becoming a constant source of tension between them? What can I do to help her get out of that valley?
Here are my thoughts concerning that issue. Sometimes when students want to quit their reasons are: not fun anymore , pieces too hard, (For example Light Blue ) or too many other activities that make kids feel overwhelmed. I think you should talk to her and find out more about what made her not want to play.
For me after teaching the 4th year: I realized the dosage we give is very important . We tend to rush through the foundation pieces. If you give the right dosage the students will feel victory after victory. We balance the lesson with Composition, Improvisation, and accompaniment using Songs for Everyone or have her bring her own songs to accompany .
Play a duet….play games…. This are ways to make lessons interesting and fun.
So how would I tell mom is not to panic, stay calm in an understanding, loving way (avoid fighting and tension between them) and tell her child that she understands her and they know that they will be in the valley sometimes. That she and you are here to help her overcome the difficult time.
I would ask the child and see how you can help her out of the valley and listen to student’s sharing or suggestion and work from there.
Robin Keehn, Washington
Hueichen gave you some great words of wisdom. I just want to respond, too. I think that middle school students seem to struggle more with everything. My youngest daughter is now 13 and we are having “battles” in many areas – school, dance, piano, friends, etc…
I have found that the less emotional I am about things she is objecting to, the shorter the duration of the upset. There are certain things that, no matter how hard she fights, I’m just not going to give in. So, she can get pretty upset and try to have a victory (i.e. I give in) but it just won’t happen.
I would talk to the mom about all of the things she does require – getting dressed for school, brushing her teeth, completing her homework, wearing socks with shoes, or whatever. Talk to her about how unemotional her requirements are in those areas. I’m betting that she doesn’t give in. If piano simply is another requirement and she won’t engage emotionally in the battle, her daughter will eventually give up the fight and realize that she isn’t going to win this one.
For me, it has become a dawning realization as I parent and as I teach SM. If I simply require things and there is clearly no pushing me in a direction, my children and my students don’t fight it.
I hope that helps a bit. As a mom, I know how easy it is to engage emotionally but sometimes, it just prolongs the fight and we end up losing the battle because we wear down.
Patti P., Hawaii
Thumbs up to Huei-Chen & Robin’s advice, first of all.
It’s great the mom understands the long-term relationship and is seeking help to get her daughter through this valley. She’s probably wondering exactly what she can do, though, other than continue to pay for and take her daughter to lessons she hasn’t practiced for. Part of the difficulty for the parent is that you can’t actually physically make the child practice. So if the child refuses, what can she do? Here is one possible aid:
I met a very wise mom once who had three children in piano lessons with a friend of mine. They were teens & pre-teens. They had a simple rule that the children had to earn their screen time via their piano time. Every hour of practice during the week earned them 30 minutes screen time on the weekend. They were not allowed screen time on school days. I think the mom solved several problems at once. She ensured that the kids would be motivated to practice, if for no other reason than they wanted to watch their favorite show on the weekend. Plus the kids weren’t buried in their devices all the time. The children were learning that they had certain things they had to get done before they got to chose their own activities (homework, piano, chores.)
Thank you, Robin and Patti! I’m so thankful that you are willing to share wisdom from your own experiences! I will pass all of this great mom-encouragement on to this great mom.
We had our group lesson last week, and I did casually and briefly address my student’s issue, letting her know that when she’s had a bad week with the piano, it’s really ok to let us know that in lessons. The other 2 students talked briefly about when they had a hard time and came out of it, and we all talked about it being a normal and expected part of this journey. Her mom said, “Yeah, Jen told you this was going to happen, remember?” Of course, we don’t want to stay there any longer than necessary… I did also talk with her privately after the lesson like you suggested, Hueichen. She didn’t have anything to share at the time, but I think she felt better knowing that I care and want to help.
It “just so happened” that I had just written a song, and part of it completely related to the hiking analogy her mom had come up with. It was a very personal song (to my husband), but I said that I ask them to be vulnerable and share their songs, so I would, too. I played it for the group, and I think it was a really powerful moment. Her mom told me a couple of days later that she went right home and practiced after our lesson…. without mom having to say anything!
We are headed in the right direction! Thanks for all of your help!