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I end up offering TV time as reward but he complains so much while practicing, tracks time by calling out every 2 minutes, and practices without respecting the piano or the music (bangs it out). He then gets the TV time but I am so angry and exhausted from dealing with his attitude that even though he gets the reward, he knows I am still mad. So, basically, how do we motivate our kids to learn and develop their talents for their own sake, instead of ours?

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I've never met a kid that enjoys piano lessons (myself included). I think that's just part of growing up. Maybe you can ask your child what they'd like to do to make it more fun. Different music? Different instrument? –  DA01 Apr 10 '12 at 17:41
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There's a whole host of issues going on here that have already been addressed in some of the answers, but I'm curious, why in the WORLD would you give him the reward if he behaved like that? –  Kevin Apr 10 '12 at 21:28
    
What is important to you in the situation? Learning the piano? Learning music and to read music? Exposure to a certain style of music? Music Theory? Is there a way to problem solve with him and find a win-win that works for you both? Perhaps the piano just ain't his bag if he hates it that much. The behavior however, definitely needs to stop. That is horrible!! I would say if he isn't giving it an earnest effort for the 30 minutes, he doesn't get the reward. –  balanced mama Nov 24 '12 at 5:15
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4 Answers

First of all, why are you making him take piano? Do you feel he'll gain something from it? Is he naturally good at it, so you want to foster that in him? Are you trying to make him learn it, because that's what you feel society expects? Are you doing it because it's something you enjoy and want to pass that on to him? Additionally, why are you being his teacher?

It seems to me that he doesn't like playing piano, or at the very least, he doesn't like you giving him lessons.

If he genuinely likes playing piano.

If he likes playing piano, but doesn't like you teaching him (ie - he'll play it on his own, or showed an interest in it previously), then hire a teacher. The student-teacher dynamic is different from a parent-child or spousal relationship, and is and can be often more demanding than the latter two (for example, my basketball coach could yell at me and it wouldn't bother me, but if my parents were to do that, I'd react very differently). If you play piano, and especially if you're good at it, he may also be intimidated by you, and see your skill as big shoes he's expected to fill. If so, then his behavior is his way of channelling and communicating that fear.

He may be more motivated simply because it's not his mom teaching him.

Additionally, he's starting to get to that age where mom and dad aren't the center of his world, and getting into the age where he wants to assert his independence. He may be feeling like you're smothering him by being his piano teacher. Having someone else take on that role may give him the sense of freedom he's looking for.

Another way you can help motivate him is to find shows or competitions that he could participate in. Let him pick the music and instill in him the importance of practicing so that he does a good job. This will give him a sense of purpose to the learning, and a goal to work for, instead of just aimlessly learning a skill.

You can foster his talents in other ways, without being his teacher. Buy him a keyboard, both for the portability, and for the variety. Get him music books with music from his favorite movies, shows, or artists (if you can't afford to hire a teacher, this is probably the next best thing, because it gives him something he can relate to and be proud of; very few 8 year olds can really understand/appreciate the classical greats, and even if your son can, his friends probably won't). Maybe see if you can arrange a meeting with his favorite local musician (or a local musician in general).

If he doesn't like playing piano.

If he doesn't like playing piano, then it would be a good idea to consider your motivations for trying to force him to learn it. Forcing a child to learn piano when they have no interest is, in my opinion, no different than forcing a child to play sports when they have no interest - it's often done because it's what's expected ("boys don't dance/play piano/cheerlead, they play {insert sport here}"), and not because that's what the child wants to do. Forcing your child to do something like that solely because it's what you believe they "ought" to be doing will do little more than foster a disdain, or even downright loathing, of both you and the activity in question.

What does he actually like to do? What does he want to try? If you want to foster his talents, then foster his talents, and what he's interested in, not what you think he "should" be doing. If he's interested in something, it will be significantly easier to motivate him (and if you still have trouble motivating him for the "daily grind" aspect of his chosen activity, most of the above "if he likes it" tips can be modified to suit).

Learning piano teaches discipline, patience, and a respect for art, yes, but so can learning a different instrument, or pottery, or painting, or theater. Things like sports and martial arts can't teach respect for "the arts," but they can teach discipline, respect for others, and respect for their fields, among other valuable lessons.

Edit based on comment - Since he does say he likes piano, I would work on rewarding him for actual practice. No more rewarding him for going through the motions and being a bear.

Additionally, I'd say go with some of the ideas in the "if he likes it" section (keeping the rest for others' sake) for what you can do to foster him (recitals, competitions, supplemental instruments, etc). I would also still take a look at what songs he's playing, and work with him and his teacher to find songs that he'd like to learn. To an 8 year old, being able to play the latest Kelly Clarkson song, or whatever 8 year olds listen to these days (egads, I feel old saying that!), is going to be far more interesting than being able to play Fur Elise. This may be a little more pricey, due to copyright matters, but your teacher might know ways of getting discounts.

Perhaps it's just a time of day that doesn't work well, and he'd be more apt to practice at a different time of day (studies have shown that people's productivity levels go up and down throughout the day in sync with various biological rhythms; and it's been my experience that artists tend to be more finicky about such things, so if he's naturally artistic, then this might be an issue). Try changing the time of his practice.

Can you change the practice location? It may also be simply because he's at home, or in the living room, that makes him not want to practice. Having a place set aside specifically for the activity (out of the house, if possible) can help get into the mental state for practicing, increasing focus.

Also, get him involved in the above changes. Work with him to find a time and place to practice, have him pick out the music to work on, etc. Simply being involved in the decision making process can be a huge motivator, and only following top down orders tends to be a big demotivator (the same goes for adults!).

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I wish I had added, I am not his teacher. he does like the piano, he repeatedly asserts, so I know he will not want to stop lessons. I feel that it is essential that he practice, because I am paying for his lessons, and practice is part of the discipline of learning anything! –  makmom Apr 10 '12 at 18:04
    
@makmom - Edited my answer. –  Shauna Apr 10 '12 at 18:40
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Forcing a child to do something they don't want to do is a tough decision. Sometimes it makes sense (they don't like Hockey, so why force them to play?) but sometimes it's important they stick with it (they don't like math, but they have to graduate). Where piano lessons falls in that spectrum is likely going to vary from family to family. Personally, I think music should be like math...a required part of everyone's education. But, that said, music doesn't HAVE to be just piano. –  DA01 Apr 10 '12 at 20:22
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Being a parent, who happens to be a piano teacher, who happens to also teach my 2 daughters piano.....

I would find out why he doesn't want to practice. Is there something he'd rather be doing at that time? Have him help you come up with a time that works for him. One of my students practices before breakfast-seems early to me-but, it's what works out best for her and her family. Other of my students practice right after school-and some are homeschooled and practice during their normal school activities. If he enjoys playing piano and his lessons-finding out why practicing is so tedious would be a good start. Does he have siblings that are watching tv at that time? Maybe say noone gets to watch tv until x time... in the meantime, everyone take care of homework/practice/chores, etc.

How long has he been taking lessons? My youngest, who just began this year, isn't all that interested in practicing-so, I let her practice when the mood strikes her, for the most part. Some of my students take lessons every other week, because they aren't able to practice enough in 1 week. Would he feel less pressure if you did something like that?

If you aren't happy with how he is practicing, then send him back and tell him no tv (or whatever) until he practices the way his teacher wants him to-and with the right attitude. If he's not willing to comply, I've also had students (a little older than 8) who were told they would pay for the lessons if they didn't practice right. Sure, both of these cause a fight-I've been there.. but, in the end, they know what is expected of them and that Mom/Dad isn't going to accept less than their best-because that's really all we want. Have you asked him to rate his practice on a scale of 1-5 or 1-10 on whether he put his best into it? Maybe if his and yours averages to (7+ or 4+) X then he gets tv-if not, then no tv? Give him some control of the situation and help him to see that he is IN control of the situation. It isn't you-but him who controls whether or not he gets his reward. Personally, in my house, if it's not with the right attitude, then it doesn't count-and my kids know that.. doesn't make them happy all of the time, but they do know where the bar is.

Hope this helps!

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thank you all. I think the comments that made me step back and think was 'why reward bad behavior during practice?' well, I guess i give in to pressure and the fuss he makes if I dont give him the TV time. Going forward that will have to change. Bad attitude, no TV. the suggestions about giving him a measure of control over the situation are also great. will certainly try to incorporate that. its just, when he does not get the TV he yells and cries till i cannot stand it. of course, this is a different issue, i realize. –  makmom Apr 11 '12 at 14:21
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I am thinking about the same way I motivate myself : have him play songs he likes.

Disney ballads (like "A Whole New World" or "Prince Ali") are really easy to play, and lots of fun.

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would you suggest a particular collection/book/score? thank very much for chipping in. –  makmom May 7 '12 at 19:17
    
I would recommend getting whatever score he is already interested in. Disney is a great place to start, though. –  bobobobo Oct 20 '12 at 17:04
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The following things motivate my 8-year old boy to practice the piano (Not in any particular order):

  • The love of a song.
  • The possibility to impress on his peers (I guess girls, but he would never admit it).
  • The posibility of me learning a piece, or part of a piece faster or better than him. What I'll do when he gets stuck and demotivated is try to learn the piece myself (not being a piano player...). When he notices that I make progress, he forces me off the piano chair in order to practice and prove to me that he learns faster and better (which he does :-).
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i agree. once my son's teacher got him off Bach and Beethoven, and onto songs, he's much more motivated. Also, he tends to hop on the chair the moment i try to squeeze him out :) –  makmom Oct 19 '12 at 12:50
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