Through my website, a parent recently asked if children who don’t want to continue piano lessons should be forced to stay the course regardless. I answered that I don’t approve, generally, of forcing children into activities they don’t want to be in. Making a child continue in an activity he doesn’t enjoy makes it less likely he will ever again express interest in anything for fear of being forced to continue if he discovers he doesn’t like it. Where optional activities are concerned, childhood should be a time of fairly free-form experimentation.
Another parent wrote back: “I understand your position on not forcing piano practice and that kids should be free to figure out what hobbies they have. But I’m in the same boat — we bought a piano and we’re paying for lessons. You’re saying we shouldn’t force practice? My parents let me quit music and I regret it to this day.”
My response: “If you’re saying your parents made a mistake letting you quit music lessons, I disagree. You made the mistake. Your parents allowed you the freedom to do so and I applaud them for it. That is the greatest freedom of all, one that all too many of today’s kids are being denied by well-intentioned but short-sighted parents. I will submit that the outcome to you of being forced to take lessons when you didn’t want to would not have been good. Today, you wish you’d continued your musical learning. But as they say, hindsight is 20/20.
On the other hand, if a child asks parents to invest in expensive musical equipment (a piano, for example), and has promised in return to take lessons for a specific period of time, then her feet should be held to the fire of the agreement. That’s about obligations, however, not music.
Q: I don’t require our 4-year-old to take a nap, but I do make her stay in her room for an hour after lunch. The problem is that while she’s in there, she dismantles her room. She takes the sheets off the bed, empties out her closet, pulls things out of her drawers, and so on. Today, when I found her sitting in the middle of this clutter, playing, I told her she had to stay in there until suppertime and locked the door. She screamed bloody murder the entire afternoon, frequently begging her older brother to let her out. I thought the neighbors might call the police. Was this overkill? If so, how should I respond when she tears her room apart?
A: I don’t think it’s overkill for you to tell your daughter that if she tears her room apart during naptime, she has to stay in there until she has put it back together again. A 4-year-old is capable of doing that — fairly well, at least, and fairly well is all that I’d require.
I do think, however, that locking the door was unnecessary. After all, if she will stay in there for her nap, then you should have no problem getting her to stay in there until she’s straightened up her mess. Locks have a symbolic meaning that can be unnerving to a young child. Not traumatic, mind you (the word has been dumbed-down almost to the point of meaninglessness), but in this case at least, needlessly redundant.
A psychologist, Rosemond answers questions on his website at www.rosemond.com.