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Thoughts on Teaching Kids Discipline
I posted earlier about my frustration with piano lessons with my youngest child. Basically she refuses to count, which you need to do once you get to a certain level, and she really hates reading music.

Julie asked in the comments if this was really such a big deal--maybe Katie should just learn the way she wants to learn?

And I want to address that, in a broader context so that it has more relevance even for parents whose kids don't do music lessons! So if you don't have kids in music, you can skip down a few paragraphs to get to my parenting philosophy, if you want! Otherwise just keep reading!

I spent quite a while with Katie away from the piano yesterday just making sure she "got" the concept of counting, and she does. For a while I was afraid that she might have a learning disability or something, but she doesn't. She can count, she just doesn't like to. And last night she actually did when she was practising, so to me that's a big breakthrough.

But here's our philosophy about piano first, and then we'll get to more generic parenting stuff: we have the kids take two types of lessons. The first is the typical one, with the reading music and counting and learning to play difficult pieces. I don't know what the piano system is in the U.S., but right now Rebecca is in Grade 7 and Katie is Grade 6. We've told them they have to do up to Grade 8, but I think Becca will go on to Grade 10. Katie certainly won't.

Then they take a lesson with a friend of mine who plays in church, mostly by chord sheet or by ear. So she's teaching them to do it that way, and Katie's really quite good at that.

But my friend, who is am amazing pianist, probably the best I know, says that the other type of lesson is important, too. You have to be able to read music in case anyone ever plops it in front of you. And you have to have the background in the notes and understanding how they go togehter. She has her Grade 9 piano, and says she wouldn't be as good as she is now if she didn't have that base.

So even though it's easy to say that we should just let Katie quit the classical stuff, I really think she needs to be able to play sight music, which is what we're working on with her.

Now to generic parenting stuff.

Let me back up for a minute. One of the big issues with kids today, I believe, is that the world revolves around them in a way it didn't for kids a century or two ago. In those days kids had to work, and work hard. Today, from the moment they are born, our lives revolve around our kids. They become the centre. We take them on play dates, take Mom & Tot swimming, buy them lots of toys, and expect very little out of them.

When they go to school they learn all about self-esteem and how special they are. What they don't get to do is be productive. Children, I believe, have a healthier sense of self when they feel self-reliant and useful. But children today aren't useful; too often they're accessories of the parents while we buy them all the latest things and try to make their lives go as smoothly as possible. But real life doesn't work that way. In real life your life only goes smoothly if you work and are responsible. But we don't have very many ways of teaching children that today.

In our house the kids do work, though not nearly as hard as children used to. But they have their chores, and they make dinner occasionally, and they clean toilets. It's great.

Nevertheless, I'm not sure where they actually learn the value of hard work. We homeschool, so they miss out on two things from school: getting 100% for working hard, but also having to sit through something they really really don't like. On the one hand, I'm ecstatic that they don't have to go through that. I hated watching the clock inch towards 3:10 when we would get out of school. I try to make schoolwork fun for the kids, and interesting, and for the most part I think I succeed.

But at the same time, at some point children need to learn the discipline to plow through something they don't like. In life sometimes we have to do things we hate for the greater good. And the sooner you realize that since you have to do it, you may as well have a good attitude about it and get it done, the better. When they complain and whine about it, they make everybody miserable.

One day my girls are going to have jobs. They're going to have homes to take care of, jobs to do at church, income tax forms to fill out. You can't procrastinate forever. You have to just do it. And I want to feel that my children were trained that when distasteful things come along, you take a deep breath, work as hard as you can, and get it over with.

I don't want their whole lives to be about that; I really don't. On the whole, I want them to have lives that are interesting and broadening and exciting. Occasionally, though, they do need to buckle down, and they need opportunities for that.

Rebecca, my oldest, will. If she doesn't like something, she has realized that just getting it over with is the best offense. So she does. But Katie, with everything in life, doesn't. Her first instinct is to complain, whether it's schoolwork or chores or piano. If it were just piano, I might let this go, and let her learn only the way she wants to. But it's with everything in her life, and so I'm really worried that it's more of a character issue.

So the reason that I am so strict with piano is that I want her to learn that valuable lesson. Practising for 25 minutes a day, hard, isn't so bad. She has the rest of the day to do things she likes, after all. And if she put her all into it, she'd be done lessons for good in a year and a half. She really would. But at the rate she's going it will take three years. I'm not trying to make her whole life hard, but learning to overcome procrastination and laziness is an important skill to teach children, and it's one I'm still battling with myself.

Does that make sense? Have you ever experienced this in your home? I think Katie will be an incredible pianist one day. She's already at the point where she could play for church. But even more than that, I want her to a person who doesn't complain, who is helpful, who is the first to jump in when something needs doing and just gets it done. I think 11 is a good age to start learning that. We'll see how it turns out!

To Love, Honor and Vacuum

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At 9:00 AM , Blogger Georgia Peach said…

Oh. No. You. Didn't.

You did not just express that children learn perseverance by walking through unpleasant (or even boring) situations!

Horray! Good for you, friend. I totally agree that there are times when children benefit from wading through something that challenges them - if for no other reason than to learn that they can.

Reminds me of a pithy quote by Thomas Edison, "Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like hard work."

Also worth noting that our Heavenly Father allows for this kind of teaching experience too....James 1:3-4 (NIV), “Because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything”.


At 10:08 AM , Blogger Tracey said…

Complaining is a big pet peeve of bugs the !@#$% out of me. Good for you! Your a great mom!!


At 1:35 PM , Blogger Terry, Ornament of His Grace said…

I'm with you on this one, Sheila,110%. By and large, we have taught this generation of kids (by example as well as experience,by the way), that everything is supposed to be fun, exciting, and personally fulfilling. what hogwash! I have told my children repeatedly that life is full of little unpleasantries but they are the grease that keeps the wheels spinning. Toilets must be cleaned, dishes washed, laundry folded, etc. And allowance isn't given in our house for these things. Chores are to the kids what the mortgage is to the Parents: the price you pay to live here peaceably and enjoyably. Allowance is for going above and beyond just enough. In our house, allownce isn't just a given.

I think your daughter should learn to play piano the right way. We can't always do things in the way that most suits us. Sometimes we can, and that's good. But sometimes we can't and it's better she learn that now than when she gets in a workplace and rubs her employer the wrong way, or her professor the wrong way in college, or even her husband the wrong way because the truth is that we're not really loving someone unless we're loving them in the way they receive love. So the lessons you're teaching her now has applications in every area of life. Just my .02.


At 3:04 PM , Anonymous Silvana said…


I really appreciated this post as we are going through almost exactly the same things in our home. Our oldest, age 13, sounds similar to your 11yo. He too has wanted to quit piano for a year now--he's been playing for 8 yrs and can play well when he wants to. He's not as careful and diligent in many areas besides piano and I think it's mainly, as you said, laziness and carelessness. However, my younger child, though she may not always enjoy doing something, will buckle down, get the job done and do her best (for the most part). So, we are constantly trying to discipline and encourage towards diligence and responsibility. Like Dr. Dobson says, "Parenting isn't for Cowards." Boy is he ever right...not for the faint of heart! Thanks again for your encouragement.

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Name: Sheila

Home: Belleville, Ontario, Canada

About Me: I'm a Christian author of a bunch of books, and a frequent speaker to women's groups and marriage conferences. Best of all, I love homeschooling my daughters, Rebecca and Katie. And I love to knit. Preferably simultaneously.

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