Smile Politely

To Force or Not to Force

Two completely unrelated things

The Husband and I just had our first “date night” this year. We went to see Wire in Chicago at the Metro, the best place in all the US — and possibly Europe — to play a show. The stage is just a tad bit bouncy, perfectly sized so you can run back and forth on it and not run into anyone else, and the sightlines are fantastic; you can see almost anyone in the audience from anywhere on stage (if the lights are shining a certain way). At least you can see anywhere in the club.

Wire was great; I love a band that can write a song with one chord and have it be so complete and powerful. I believe this band is an important common denominator of all important punk rock 80s bands: the simplicity, the ferocity, the angst.

I’m going to talk about forcing your child to do something against his or her will today. I’ve had some discussions with friends, and there seem to be two camps: the “we’re not going to force our kid into doing something he or she won’t like” and the “who cares what the kid likes” camp. I fall into the latter, because this is how I was brought up.

Now bear in mind I’m talking about a four year-old. I don’t really have a lot of experience with older children. But what my experience across the board tells me is that pretty much no child wants to ever do anything but watch TV or play video games or surf the internet… or shop. Yes there is the odd kid who really does enjoy the violin lessons or the tennis lessons, but I think for the most part, if they had their druthers, most children would prefer to sit around and not be bothered by teachers or lessons.

So, if you want to be a counselor in my camp, your job would be to explain to the child that: 1) The lesson doesn’t last the entire day, it’s over pretty quickly, 2) “You’ll thank me for this later” (that never really goes over well), 3) You need to learn a skill like this because it will make you more powerful and able to learn better, 4) Being more powerful will get you more money, more friends, and more candy in the long run, and when all else fails, 5) You will get a candy bar after your lesson.

If you employ rewards, (and I can send you plenty of links that are adamantly opposed to this method), do so with the knowledge (or hope) that you should only have to do so for the first couple of weeks of lessons. The teacher should engage the student at least a month into the lessons, enough that the student feels challenged to improve his or her skills.

My personal opinion is that it’s bad to quit something the first year (or at least, half-year) that you’ve tried it, unless there are absolute glaring signs that the teacher or teaching methodology is bad. This is something that you’ll be able to tell yourself; if you watch your child and watch how the teacher engages your child, if there’s no match, then pull the plug. There are plenty of mediocre teachers around. There are also some incredibly amazing ones too.

Anyway, that’s my plug for forcing kids to learn things against their will. The Preschooler has been involved with a wonderful children’s martial arts class in town which required only three weeks of gum packages, musical instrument lessons (three sets, first set required four weeks of pleading and candy, second set which we only lasted a month in and decided it was terrible, and third set which is proving to require small rewards each week and is probably challenging The Preschooler to his absolute limit. And watching that is kind of my reward in itself.

I did thank my dad — 20 years into my “rock” career — for making me practice the piano all those years, from the stage of the Metro. He was there watching, and I could see him.

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