When I am asked by parents, “How do I get my son to practice his musical instrument?” they are frequently surprised by my response: “Don’t try.”
Let’s face it, you have enough battles with your challenging son already in getting him up in the morning, off to school, his homework done, off his screens, to eat healthy foods, etc… without adding one more. Your relationship doesn’t need another thing to fight about. Furthermore, pushing your son to practice risks spoiling his relationship with music. Playing music will stop being a joy and will get turned into work. You’re not failing to do your job as a parent if he doesn’t practice. In fact, you should feel very good about the fact that you’ve got him playing a musical instrument in the first place.
I know it feels frustrating to pay for music lessons, which can be expensive, and have your son not get his “money’s worth” by not practicing. You might wonder, “Why not cancel the lessons altogether?” That would ensure no fights. There are very important reasons to keep the lessons going, however. Increasing scientific evidence is showing that playing a musical instrument is good for brain development. Studies have found playing a musical instrument to be associated with improved attention, greater working memory, better impulse and emotion regulation, as well as improvements in other aspects of executive functioning. Most challenging boys are challenging precisely because they have deficits in attention, emotion regulation, and executive functioning. Musical lessons are exactly the type of training that an ADHD/EF child needs.
I recommend keeping the lessons going. Children’s brains are sponges. Just as children absorb language faster than adults, they learn musical skills more quickly too. Even playing music once a week during a lesson your child’s brain is getting important stimulation for growth.
Some music teachers will complain to you about your son not being prepared for the lesson. If this is the case, I’d explain to the teacher that your priority is your son developing a love a music. Let the teacher know that you want the lessons to be a good experience for him and that you are not worried about whether or not he practices. Most teachers can adjust to meet a child where he’s at. If your teacher can’t, I’d seriously consider getting a teacher who understands ADHD/EF kids and who knows how to make lessons fun. Your music teacher’s skill and personality are probably the most important factor in encouraging your son’s enthusiasm for music.
Here are some ideas to encourage your child to play his instrument between lessons without forcing or fighting:
• Make sure he’s playing an instrument he likes.
• Make sure he’s learning songs in his lessons that he likes and wants to play.
• If you play an instrument, play together. (Generally, challenging kids will prefer to play music with someone else, rather than alone.)
• Encourage him to participate in band or orchestra at school (I even had a friend who put a rock band together of her sons and their friends.)
Most of all, get excited about his playing and progress. Hopefully your son’s interest in music will catch fire. Feel good also that you’re giving him a skill that he can enjoy throughout his life and that can boost his self-esteem and self-confidence.