Mistake #6 You Push Them Too Far (When They’re Already Pushing Themselves)

Let’s face it: Most kids hate practicing.

Performing on stage, playing at camp, winning competitions: now that’s exciting.

But that whole practice thing? They’d love to find a way to skip that part.

Now, of course, there’s always that one Mom who brags about how her little bundle of joy can’t put her violin down and she has to pry it from her little hands.

But for the majority of kids out there, that isn’t their reality.

Practicing is tolerable at most because it gets us what we want: playing pretty music. But that takes time – it’s not instant. There’s a whole turbulent series of emotions a child goes through before they realize they are strong enough – and good enough –  to play beautiful music. The not-so pretty parts of achievement can be cold, overwhelming, and even painful.

Once they come out of it alive, realizing they can achieve any goal they set their mind to, they’re unstoppable.

But unfortunately not every child gets to that point. They miss out on those benefits the other kids are getting in music because they don’t make it that far. They can’t deal with what they’re going through and what their parents are pushing them to do. It’s all too much and it’s a big reason why kids quit, and why parents let them.

The Betrayal

Jamie was ready.

A star student of mine, he came through my door excited about lessons and determined to succeed when we worked together each week. Most of all he was willing to fail – a HUGE part of success that perfectionists like me like to skip. That’s one of the things I loved about our lessons together. He taught me as much as I taught him.

He was the kind of kid who practiced and listened to what I told him to do at home. His mom was great – an advocate of positive pushing who knew when to back off. But they ran into a wall at home.

She confessed to me he cried during a practice session at home and it worried her. Later we talked about it during his next lesson and he said he was upset because he wasn’t making the same clear sounds out of his instrument as I was at his lessons.

I was growing pretty close to Jamie, as most teachers do to their students, and the idea that he felt this way tore me apart. I would not have some measly pieces of music doing that to him. I took a look at his practice schedule, talked with his mom, and went back and forth scheduling less and then more for him during the next few weeks.

But the betrayal was inevitable.

You see, when kids watch musicians on stage playing beautiful music it feels like a betrayal when they try playing the same songs. After all, they’re doing what the teacher told them to do. They’re practicing and listening just like they said.

But still…nothing but sour notes and scratchy lullabies.

What comes out sounds nothing like they imagined. The artists on the radio, the teacher at their lesson, and the older kids in their recital are just another reminder that everyone’s figured this music thing out except for them. So they deal with these emotions by throwing tantrums or throwing their hands up altogether, crying out of sheer frustration, or sulking while they play.

Finding joy in music?

Playing beautiful pieces?

Practicing makes perfect?

To most kids, it’s all a lie.

The War

I’ll be honest with you.

Making music worth listening to is nothing less than coming out of a war alive. Anything worth fighting for and worth doing well takes passion, sweat, and hard work. This is what making great art is about. This is really what being good at anything’s about.

Before we can make music worth listening to, we have to win a war within ourselves. It’s a war professionals are fighting all the time, you just don’t see them. They make it look easy because that’s their job. And they’re used to the battle – they’ve been fighting it for decades.

The war of art doesn’t go away – you just get better fighting it.

You’re hearing a musician’s brilliant 5 minutes on the radio after all the battles. But they’ve been fighting tirelessly in practice rooms and rehearsals for years to sound the way they do today.

Kids who play music and stick with it learn the kind of resilience and determination that great life skills are made of. But it comes with a price. It doesn’t happen easily, and it doesn’t happen without a lot of work. Little musicians learn all this quick. They learn it faster than their peers and they learn that becoming good at something takes skill and effort. It’s why they outperform them in nearly everything.

But the kind of surprise, excitement, and frustration that comes with these benefits hits home with kids all at once. And it can be brutal if they don’t have help digesting it. Most kids who fight this battle will express their emotions in anger, tears, and even self-sabotage. Sadly, most parents confuse this with their child not being talented enough, patient enough, or determined enough to be successful. But this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Parents of successful kids accept those feelings. It’s not easy, but they back off when they need to. They know that the struggle and “the figuring out” is messy and emotional, and it’s not always something they can control. So they work with their child every chance they get to make what they can control as smooth and routine as possible.

They enforce guidelines that give their kids stability in all of the madness by sticking to a regular practice schedule, with a start and stop time they’ve agreed upon together. They talk with them, not at them. They make learning how to practice a priority above pushing them to play the most complex pieces as quickly as possible. They realize their words and actions mean the world to their child and they treat them with love and respect. And they build an army of support who will fight with them when they can’t anymore.

You’ll want to save them. You’ll want to protect them. It’s instinctive – primal. Because you want your child’s path to be easy – easier than yours was.

But this war within them must be fought.

And your child must win.

The Victory

Your biggest challenge will be watching the battle all happening in front of you – learning when to step in and when to step back.

The key here isn’t for your child to win gracefully everytime. It’s coming out alive on the other side ready to fight again. Ready to practice tomorrow. Ready to try again. Willing to learn more each day until…


Achievement tells us we’re going somewhere. We’ve done something worth doing, and we can do it again. Dr. Jim Taylor, author of Positive Pushing: How to Raise a Successful and Happy Child, says, “Achievement is a process of small steps rather than big leaps.”

That small step of achievement is vital to gaining ownership of any goal your child has. Ownership means getting your child to push themselves – owning their success and their failures.

No matter how small the victory, it must be their victory. They have to see the payoff. The victory your child gets from music must be worth the war they’re fighting.

Part of winning the war of art is just learning how to fight. Most people will go on and on about determination and discipline. But learning how to deal with failure, disappointment, and setback is just as much a part of how we keep pushing ourselves. And the quicker your child goes through this sequence – the betrayal, the war, and the victory – the better chance they have sticking with music. For that matter, sticking with anything.

Your child is pushing. And boy, is there a whole battle going on inside that little head of theirs. A fight like you wouldn’t believe. You just have to stay calm, steady, and ready on the sidelines to nurse their wounds when it all gets too much.

And those wins? Even the small ones? Celebrate them.

Because that’s what makes this journey worth fighting for.

I’ll talk to you soon,




Get here from a link from a friend?  This article is part 6 of a 7-part free email series on the mistakes you make getting your child to practice. Click here to get them all.