Why They Secretly Hate Practicing With You: The 4 Common Mistakes That Shut Your Child Down

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Admit it – I know you don’t always love practicing with your kids.

It’s ok. I won’t tell.

But do you know who’s spilling your dirty little secret to them?

Your body language. And it’s making practicing with them a heck of a lot harder than it should be.

I know practicing can be tough and tedious for both of you. But your kids are going to need every ounce of positive pushing you can give them – even when the music makes both of you a little bit crazy.

When you give off bad body language signals while they play, they’re going to make less progress (and secretly start to hate practicing with you too).

So before you start practicing again, see if these secret signals are blowing your cover…

1. Your furrowed brows

You know that gut reaction you have when you eat something sour that you didn’t expect would taste that way? You probably scrunch your face up a little and start furrowing your brows because it’s so startling and unexpected to you.

Chances are this is the same face you make when your child plays the wrong notes while you listen to them practice. When you make that face, and furrow your brows they think you’re disappointed with their performance. And when your child thinks you’re disappointed, it’ll completely throw off their concentration.

This is because kids don’t know the difference between, “Mom thinks the music sounds bad” and “Mom thinks I’m bad” when they’re practicing. If you’re watching them play and they look over to see your disappointed face instead of a smiling one, they’ll take your criticism more personally than ever.

That’s why they lash out and say something like, “I hate this song!” or even worse, “I hate you!” as they cry, running out of the room.

You might think they’re just being unreasonable or undisciplined. But really they feel hurt because they think you’re disappointed with them. And they don’t want you to be disappointed.  So if that means they have to cut a practice short to make you happy again, they’ll do it. It’s how they protect themselves from feeling bad – it’s their defense mechanism.

Now, I’m not saying you have to smile all the time, but you at least have to look encouraging (even when you hear the sour notes).

2. Your crossed arms

Here’s how your kids interpret your crossed arms: There you are sitting on the couch with a disappointed face, crossing your arms while they slave away at their music to make you proud. And in their eyes, you’re not really helping them or acknowledging how hard they’re working – just crossing your arms. And you’re looking a little judgmental.

So now they’re less frustrated with the music and more frustrated with you.

Musicians worry about what other people think of their performance – some of them cover it up better than others, but there’s always some anxiety there. I’ve even had a few conservatory friends confess to me that they take a Xanax before their big performances…and those musicians were professional 20-somethings!

Just because your child isn’t a professional performing on stage doesn’t mean they aren’t worried about what you think when you hear them play at home. In fact, younger ones who are less confident in their skills are even more self-conscious when they feel you’re judging their half finished piece of music.

Kids know when they sound bad—and believe me, they’re just as frustrated as you are.

3. Your nervous tick

Whether it’s pen clicking, foot tapping, or deep sighing, your kids pick up on your nervous ticks—even the ones you don’t know you have.

Without realizing it, your body’s telling your kids: “Hurry up—I don’t have all day! Why aren’t you learning this quicker? I have better things to do.”

And if you practice with them right after having your cup of coffee, this nervous tick can get really out of hand. (One time I tried teaching my students after a few cups of coffee, and I was a pen-clicking, foot-tapping mess)!

I know. Listening to “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” for the 200th time can get pretty boring. So, to get past the boredom you might cling to nervous ticks to prevent yourself from raising your voice or giving negative feedback.

But these little ticks irritate them, which makes them stop focusing, and that can make your tick even worse (see the cycle here?). They’re getting the message that you’d rather be doing anything other than practicing with them. And if your child thinks you’re not focused on practicing and improving, why should they be?

4. Your technology

Let’s face it: online shopping, grocery list making, and solitaire playing are all more interesting than listening to a screechy half-finished song all day.

Kids know this – they don’t think their half-finished song sounds very interesting either. But helping your child practice isn’t just about sitting there and getting through it.

If you really want to help them get better, you have to be present. You said you’d help…but your body language is saying something different. Kids feel a little betrayed when you do something else that looks more interesting to you.

They’ll act out and zoom through their songs just to get through them because they’re a little angry and hurt that you’re not following through with helping them or listening to them like you said you would.

So if you’re not interested in what they’re doing, they’ll do something to get your attention.

Because when your attention isn’t on them when you said it would be on them, they’ll settle for just about any attention – even the bad kind.

You don’t have to understand everything your child’s learning

I’m not saying you have to understand everything your child’s learning. You don’t even have to act like you do.

But 20 minutes of focused practice time with them is going to be worth 40 minutes of unfocused practice time. And if you stick to a routine, help them with their music, and just listen to them, you’ll avoid wasting precious time in your day. That means less frustration, less acting out, and less stress for everyone.

Show them that nothing exists except the two of you and the music when you practice. Show them that right here – right now – you’re there to help.

Once you do that, both of you will start dreading this part of the day a whole lot less.

Are you guilty of any of these habits? (My Mom was an arm crosser!)

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Sue Hunt December 6, 2012 at 5:56 am

You are totally right about body language. Children can read it like a book. However it is hard for a parent to relax when she has an agenda. We all care so much about our children’s development, that sometimes we can’t let go of the results that we think we want. What is most important to me is teaching the ability to focus in the process.


Elizabeth Kane December 9, 2012 at 10:01 pm

That’s a really good point, Sue.

If parents deny the impact they have on their child’s practice experience, a teacher can’t do his/her job. I remember vividly feeling my mother’s disapproval while I practiced, and it would really hurt my focus when I was just about to get a technique down.

We can’t just turn off our feelings, but we can slowly change how we react when kids don’t meet our expectations. A big part of that is letting go.


Carin December 10, 2012 at 3:07 pm

This article is brilliant and gave me a lot to think about!
Thank you!!!!!


Elizabeth Kane December 10, 2012 at 5:24 pm

I’m glad you enjoyed it, Carin!


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