Q: My 7-year-old begged us for a violin and lessons. Now we have to beg him to practice. How can I get him to do it on his own?
A: The truth is, at this age, you can't. "It's unreasonable to expect that a 7-year-old will voluntarily practice a musical instrument every day, by himself," says Dorothy Kitchen, director of the Duke University String School in Durham, NC.
Guilt tactics such as "Your violin cost us a lot of money, so now you have to stick with it!" won't work, and will only end up putting unnecessary and unhealthy stress on your child. Instead, sit down with your son and his teacher and agree on a reasonable practice schedule, advises Kitchen. "Most 7-year-olds can handle about 20 minutes of practice, four or five times a week," she says, "but even then you will see a lot of clock-watching and resistance."
Once the schedule is set, remind your child when it's time to practice, and assist him in whatever way you can. Often, all it takes is just sitting nearby and commenting favorably.
Be careful, however, that you don't hover over him and give "constructive" criticism. Your efforts are likely to result in an argument. "Criticism is the teacher's job," says Kitchen. "The parent's job is to help the child feel that what he's doing is really special."
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