Talking to moms about behavior issues
I am trying to figure out how to better handle this issue in the future. I do shared lessons with 2 kids at a time. One kid has been with me for 1.5 years. He was with his brother, and his behavior was so poor that his brother decided to quit (at least that is my take on why he quit). I did some private lessons with him due to scheduling and then put him in a group. While he is 8, his behavior is so bad that the other parents in the group complained and wanted a new lesson time. He is 8 years old but has the behavior of a 5 year old.
When I confronted the mother and told her that I would do lessons before school or she could pay for a private, she screamed at me (and has done so in the past as well). Does anyone have a policy in place to handle cases like this? I should have talked to her about his behavior several times before but was afraid to confront her. I am thinking of trying to put in place an early warning system, but behavior almost always seems to come down to parents who aren’t active in the lesson.
Do you comment on the child’s behavior or on the parent’s responsibility as a coach to monitor behavior?
As the mother of a child with behavioral issues, I would first like to state that it is terribly draining – mentally, physically, emotionally – to parent a child like this. I am in no way excusing the mom from her responsibilities, but rather pointing out that the reason may be that if her child is disruptive the majority of the time, she may absolutely savor a moment to relinquish her child to another for supervision. Rather than getting involved in the class, she may prefer to sit around and daydream! (Again, no excuse, just a possible reason). Another reason could be that if she interfered, her child may behave even worse. I remember when my son was in Kindermusik classes, he would resist going to class. If I sat in the class with him, he behaved MUCH worse and was WAY more disruptive to the class than if I left him there and sat in the waiting room.
If the child does not suffer from any kind of behavioral disorder, but simply lacks discipline from his parents, I’m afraid the only thing that you can do is enforce behavioral expectations in the classroom. (For that matter, you can absolutely do this if there is a behavioral disorder too…keeping in mind reasonable expectations). I would come up with a list of behavioral expectations and present them to ALL of your classes. Make sure you stress that this is in place so that every person in the class can have the best possible opportunity to listen, experience, and learn. Explain, in advance, what will happen if these expectations are not followed (for example, 1st offense gets a warning, 2nd offense you have a conversation about it with the student, 3rd offense you talk to the parent and give a final warning, 4th offense you offer private lessons – at private lesson price). Your consequences can be whatever you decide, but it will be important to follow-through on these consequences with EACH student who causes a disruption…not just the ones who do it often!
I hope that helps. I still have issues with my son…he is 8 years old and is not on any teams or in any group lessons (except in school) because of his behavior. I would love to hear a follow-up after you have dealt with the situation and what worked or didn’t work for you.
Jeff O., Massachusetts
I assume you fired this family. You can’t get territory back after allowing bad behavior from students and “screaming” from a grown-up. I think you have to call attention to the bad behavior the first time it happens. Stop teaching and address it. Extract promises. Be a bulldog. Pretend you are Neil.
Then contact the parent before the next lesson. Tell them you will bulldog the issue AGAIN if it comes up and ask them to support you. If they balk, you can be pretty sure it isn’t going to work out.
Kerry V., Australia
Not a great situation to be in when you want to simply teach; however, great learning possibilities for all concerned.
I wonder what exactly you mean when you say “the behavior of a 5-year-old” as to me most 5-year-olds are the most adorable and interesting to have as students.
Unfortunately you have allowed this to go on too long and may have to ‘risk’ losing this student. It depends on how you handle the mother and what she wants, expects, and does. Remember that if she is screaming at you, then she certainly has a problem. But remember the screaming isn’t AT YOU but her coming from her pain. She will be yelling at anyone. So many undercurrents they need to deal with as a family. Also, if that is the situation with her with you then imagine what this little one has to deal with at home. It may be his coping mechanism or all he knows.
You may even be able to offer that mum does NOT attend class. His behavior may be for HER benefit!
It would be best to speak with her in a quiet atmosphere, maybe when the kids are at school. Find out the best time to connect with her. Tell her where you are coming from, what you expect, what you would like to happen for her child and what is not acceptable. Explain too that the other parents are complaining. All coming from the most compassionate but empowered place. Tell her exactly what you expect from her as well as her child. If she agrees, do a trial run. Or expect her to say goodbye.
I do not have written policy as such. However, on the first lesson I explain to the parents that their role is not to be the disciplinarian during the lesson. Their role is to learn as to how and what to do for their children at home. I explain also that my tolerance level for certain behavior is so much higher than that of a parent’s. They are too close to the situation and many times react from anxiety about how their child ‘should’ be rather than who their child really is. So, I explain that if I have a problem with behavioral issues I shall address it then. So basically I set it off at the beginning. Having said that, I also explain that when I am at the piano I cannot see everything happening behind me so ask the parents (all people actually) to be diligent as to who is able to ‘see’ what is happening at the piano.
If a prospective new parent tells me their child is an unruly type, I suggest we give it a go and promise them I shall tell them the truth as to how the child is going, i.e., if they are too much, keep them at my studio etc. Recently a mother smacked her 3-year-old. It was a red flag for me so I immediately told her there is no smacking in my studio. She has not done it since and in fact wants to enroll, eventually, her four children.
Do what you know you have to. Even if your voice quivers you must speak up.
Missy M., Nebraska
I have seen several good points on the posts replying to your question. I think it would be worth mentioning that in the “real” world, everyone has choices: kids, teens, grown-ups, students, employers. It is healthy for people to make decisions from a place of freedom and for the sake of freedom, instead of out of fear.
My husband works in the financial industry at a bank. He regularly “fires” customers, and the bank backs his decision to do so, if they are the kind that throw fits (which grown-ups do) or name-call or just plain carry on with unreasonable behavior that is not appropriate for business. In every realm of life people do the tug-of-war for claiming territory, and those who are clear on their expectations, and then stand by them, are the ones that have stamina to endure their course.
Sometimes it is the hard thing to do to have to be the person in someone’s life who says “no” to their behavior and enforces the consequence of “you can’t do that around here” because throwing fits, yelling and being disrespectful never help anyone get anything except into more trouble.
Fantastic book to read on this subject, “Loving Our Kids on Purpose” by Danny Silk. I recommend it to every parent and every person who works with kids.
Scott J., Australia
I have a three-strike rule in my studio and it seems to have calmed down the hyperactive children. I have printed out the studio rules and given them to every student and parent and explained to them each rule. If the rules are broken, I write in red pen “strike one”. Once they reach three strikes they pay for the lesson but do not get it after they have reached three strikes for the rest of term. They always stay there on three so every time they break the studio rules, they miss a lesson and pay for it. I have found not only do the parents step up and control the children they also get more involved at home in the learning process .
I also have found the students just know more of the pieces and keep their playlist alive, for it’s one of my rules that if they play a song wrong two times after learning it, they get a strike. It’s just a fact nowadays that things are different, and the children feel they have the right to throw a whammy no matter where they are. I believe it’s up to us to guide them through it and by being consistent and true to the rules even the most disruptive child normally pulls into line .
Now if all of this does not work then we have to be ready to let our student go. Sometimes in life we need to let go and I believe that’s ok as well.
Thanks all, I definitely did fire the parents (well it was mutual, but I didn’t back down). This is a parent I should have fired long time ago, but was afraid about losing income. The business is growing enough that her effect on the whole studio is much more damaging than the loss of income.