“Interference!” Blowing the whistle on parental hovering

~ By Emily McPherson

One of the most exasperating experiences as a music teacher can be watching a child’s love of music deteriorate and realizing that the helicopter behavior of the parent is the cause.  However, discovering a solution that appeals to everyone, especially the parent, was a fantastic lesson for me and I one I truly hope will serve music teachers everywhere.

What Does HOVERING Actually Look Like?

Hovering is a habit that some parents have, and it goes far beyond showing interest in your child’s progress. In truth, it is the behaviour of the child that indicates that parents are “helicoptering.” As a teacher, you can control what goes on in the lesson, working to ensure the student leaves inspired, motivated and clear about what to practice. The lesson is a safe, calm mental space for the student.

In the blink of an eye, the student arrives home and this carefully cultivated positivity dissolves—all because of one moment of questioning from the parent. During the lesson, you are the students’ temporary fix; they leave remembering that they love music, that these pieces were chosen for a reason and that the end result of completing and performing a piece is possible—even rewarding!

The second that student gets in the car to go home, this particular type of parent will pepper the student with questions: “How did it go? Did she say you practiced enough this week? How much are you supposed to practice this week? Are you going to be ready for that recital next week? When I was a kid I had to practice 2 hours every day. You should go right home and practice now.” And cue the student’s brain, motivation and desire shutting down.

The parental questioning continues, and by the end of the week not only has the student practiced just once or twice, they only did it to appease the parent. Worse, the practice was frequently interrupted by the parent.

I have found that no matter how interested or naturally inclined a student is toward music making, it’s so easy to unknowingly discourage the learning process from a parent’s perspective. The parent hopes they are encouraging good habits and really they end up slowly stripping away their child’s desire to play music or come to lessons at all.

Actual Case Study

I’ve been working with a student on and off for the past year, due to her family relocating every few months for work. At 9 years old, this student is extremely intelligent on every level, fiercely determined, curious and has enthusiasm for almost all styles of music. On paper, a perfect candidate for music lessons. Both parents are hobby musicians who recognize her natural talent and want desperately to see her succeed. The relocating has been difficult for the student, as that means having a different teacher every couple of months. To compensate for information that gets lost between the cracks as she is passed between teachers, the parents have started to ‘supplement’ her learning with pieces they learned as children, sometimes at inappropriate levels, attempting to teach these themselves.

After 6 months away, I realized the student no longer had any control over her own practice sessions. Trying to start fresh, we picked new music and exercises, encouraged composition and ear training via popular music. I would set practice guidelines, but at every practice session, the parent would look at the guidelines and push the student to do more. In theory, this was not a bad idea, but it was totally invasive of the students’ personal space and had the reverse effect of what the parents hoped. The student would return to the lesson letting me know what she practiced, but was very resistant to show me what she’d done throughout the week, due to the parents running interference at every practice session.

By the next lesson she wanted to throw all of the music out the window. Over about the course of one month, the student went from practicing with the parents at the piano, to not practicing at all. They even considered switching instruments. As a teacher, it’s so hard to know where the line is. You’re not there in the home, you don’t know exactly what goes on and you don’t want to interfere with family life or parenting styles. But the time came where the parents asked me “What can I do? I think I should pull back altogether with her practice, but I don’t know how to do this.”

The Solution Was Right In Front Of Me!

Enter the online music practice tool! I had the solution right in my hands, the parents just needed to ask for it. Setting this student up on the CADENZA liberated her from parental control over the practice sessions, encouraged self regulation and independence, created efficient and new ways of practice and a general desire to make music again. Plus, the parents could look at their child’s dashboard and see for themselves whether or not she was practising (which she was again…a lot!), so they didn’t need to pester her with questions each week.

Want to start using this FREE tool called CADENZA right now?  Click below!

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