New school year, new school, new grade level, backpacks, lunch boxes, clothes, uniforms, shoes, school supplies…yes, it’s here! The busy back to school season when you’re running around (literally for some of us) sometimes with your children trying to compile everything they need before school starts. And for most parents, it’s also the time that new sessions for your after-school children’s activities kickoff.
Whether it’s piano, dance, gymnastics, music, or other after-school lessons, it can be a daunting and overwhelming time for both parents and kids. It’s not uncommon to run into fellow moms who are dismayed by the difficulty they face trying to motivate their child to set some time aside for practice. But can you blame the child, though? It’s challenging enough juggling homework, the usual back to school routine, and playtime (they’re kids after all!) So it’s not surprising that finding the time to practice elicits resistance, frustration, and at times abandoning an activity all together.
The good news is that with a little creativity and resilience on your part, you can motivate your children to not only incorporate practice into their routine, but also make it a stress free experience for them and for you.
Here are 9 ways to inspire your kids to practice and master a skill during the school year:
Focus on activities that they love
You know your child enough to recognize their talents and interests. If possible, introduce your child to as many activities as you can afford and pay attention to those that they show a desire to excel and seem to enjoy. Be open to ending an activity if your child has been doing it for a while, still lacks enthusiasm, made slow or minimal progress, and is often frustrated by it. You will have much more success if they’re participating in something that they not only enjoy, but also are able to shine.
Empower your child
Help your child set goals but keep it simple. Maybe they want to be able to do splits in dance class, acquire a gold pin in their upcoming National Piano Guild auditions, master a backhand in tennis, improve a side stroke in swimming, or whatever they need to do to feel that they’re making progress and moving to the next level. Encourage your child to write down and post their goals where they are visible and easily accessible to them. Also, ensure that the goals are achievable, measurable, and have a reasonable timeframe.
Begin practice with baby steps. For instance, piano practice can start at 15 minutes per session and go up in 15 minute increments depending on your child’s age and progress. Help your child set goals for each practice so that they have something to achieve by the end of the session. Each practice session should help them get closer to accomplishing their larger goal. Allow your child to negotiate the schedule and frequency as long as it’s reasonable. After all, it’s their practice and it doesn’t hurt to acquire negotiating skills even at a young age.
For example, when my little one first started practicing for piano, she came to me one day and asked if she could practice one day, miss the next, then do the next… At the time, she was too young to know that it meant practicing every other day but I got it and agreed to it. Compromise is a good thing for children to learn and I felt that the practice frequency was sufficient for her age and worth a try if it would encourage her to do it. Also, as time progressed and practice became part of her routine, I allowed her to negotiate on what songs to practice or taking breaks from practice. Today, we’re at 45 minutes daily without any complaints.
Finally, demonstrate that there are consequences for missing practice. For instance, if your child misses practice on one day, then she or he has to practice for a longer time period the next day.
Provide both the physical and mental tools they need to succeed
If they play piano or take ballet, provide a keyboard or ballet barre. Video tape class sessions to view and use for practice at home. Before a class, you can develop a motto with your child that you use to motivate and boost their confidence. It can be something as simple as asking them what they need to remember to be successful in class. In my case, it’s “focus, do your best, have fun, stand up for yourself, and be confident.” Make the physical things special by giving them to your child as a gift during a major event, such as a birthday or important holidays so they know that their accomplishments matter to you.
Reward Your Child
Children are quite easy to please. Know their currency and use it to reward them when they have achieved a milestone and done a great job. It can be something as simple as ice cream, smoothie, sleepover that they’ve been asking for, activity that they’ve been wanting to do with you, e.t.c. Keep in mind that the reward should not be for practicing but rather for accomplishing a major objective, such as learning how to play all their songs for an upcoming recital within a certain time period.
Select the right teachers
Listen to your child and take their feedback and concerns seriously. Discuss class sessions casually with your child. Keep an open dialogue with their teacher, discuss progress, concerns, and anything else that you think will be helpful to your child. Make sure that the teacher is challenging your child, keeping the classes interesting, and trying new things. If your child is bored, feeling discouraged, or having no connection with their teacher, they’re unlikely to succeed, excel, and stick with the activity.
Play up and showcase their achievements
Share compliments from teachers and peers with your child, visibly display their accolades at home, video tape performances and watch together as a family (think movie night), and take as many photos as possible. Use the photos from their special performances to create a keepsake, such as a photo book and give it to your child as a gift for a birthday or other events that may be important to your child. Showcase their work to family and close friends. Recognition from loved ones matters. Let your child share the information with your loved ones. We live in a digital world so even grandma living in a different location can still enjoy their grandchild’s accomplishments from afar.
Help your child aspire to greatness
If your child plays piano and they’re a huge Alicia Keys fan, take them to an Alicia Keys concert so they can experience greatness in their craft. If they love dance, go see a performance by an acclaimed dance company, such as Alvin Ailey or allow them to participate in community productions that are related to their skill, such as the Nutcracker. Record TV shows that demonstrate skills at the highest level to watch and discuss with your child. Participate in events that give back to the community so your child understands that what they’re doing is bigger than themselves and can be used to make a change. Sign them up for classes with more advanced students so they can experience what it looks like to be a great dancer and be challenged. It provides a wonderful opportunity to explain what it takes to achieve that skill level.
Change it up
Switch classes, introduce new classes, different teachers, anything that will keep it interesting for your child. For instance, if your child is in dance classes, try doing a solo class. If they only take ballet, enroll them in a hip-hop class.
Continuously think of ways to motivate your kids. The ultimate goal is make your child’s activity a part of their daily routine so it becomes second nature and you do not have to remind them to do it.
I hope that these strategies will be helpful to you. I share them with you because they have worked for me. How do you inspire your kids to practice? Would love to hear what has worked for you.
- New kid survival guide: How to help a child thrive in a new school (today.com)
- FAQ: Can I pick my child’s teacher? (askecac.org)