Originally Posted by snanna
It crops up most often when she's learning a new song, and I think feeling pressured to "get it right" while I am listening. She'll get stuck somewhere, but hates any reminders .... Lots of tears and yelling. She'll sometimes get so frustrated I take her violin away because of how roughly she's moving it.
She sounds like she's got some perfectionism going on. The best way I've found to help my perfectionists is to get in and do some prep-work with them before they start their brow-furrowing intense pursuit of their own high standards.
So in the situation you describe, I would remind her how this "new piece" was really frustrating for her yesterday, and so as her parent it's your job to come up with new ideas for doing the work which are better for her... and you have two ideas.
First, you want to help her take bite-sized pieces, rather than trying to choke back the whole meal. (Point out that ice cream cones are really yummy, unless you try to cram the whole thing in your mouth at once, in which case they might make you want to choke and puke. Same thing with Allegretto -- it's delicious to learn in small bites, but trying to cram the whole thing in at once will make you feel terrible.) Have a plan for appropriate bite-sized pieces -- one phrase, or one bar, or even just three notes at a time. Bite, chew, enjoy, swallow, then take the next bite. Make the bites small enough that you can give her the help she needs to be successful with them before she tries them. That way she won't get stuck and then need (but resist) help, and perceive the help as evidence of her personal inadequacy. I find this is one of the big tricks to dealing with perfectionists: give them suggestions before the fact, rather than after it. Save corrections from today's work and give them as "clues" before tomorrow's work and they won't be emotionally toxic.
[The pieces are going to get a lot longer and more complicated over the next book of repertoire and it is crucial that kids get comfortable with chunking things down. Those early pieces can mostly be learned by starting at the beginning and feeling one's way through, but that strategy is not going to be sufficient for long. Much though it pains some of them, kids need to learn how to treat the different parts of their new repertoire as building blocks to be individually mastered and then assembled. She may hear you better if you frame it as "now that you're getting to big pieces, you need to learn how to take bites of them." Don't talk about them getting "hard" and "complicated," which can be intimidating.]
Second, you want her to just promise herself "good tries," not "learning this part." I usually ask for a number of good tries that equals the child's age in years. That makes today's stated aim "getting five good tries closer to learning it" and removes the expectation of mastery from today's practice session. Depending on the child's likely volatility I might insert "and I get to blow raspberries on your tummy in between every try." If the little bite isn't mastered after five good tries, just cheerfully shrug and remind her that tomorrow it'll be that much easier, because of all the good work she's done today. If she wants to keep going, you need to make a bit of a judgment call. If she wants to keep going because she's enjoying the challenge and the hard work, then I would agree to do a few more tries, but later in the practice session after doing a few other different [easy, enjoyable, large-motor] tasks. If she wants to keep going because she can't abide the thought of not mastering it today, then I would not support that. Perfectionists need to learn how to set aside obsessiveness like that and settle for good tries -- and violin is a perfect place to practice that.
As a parent to two kids who were pretty intense perfectionists I also think it's important to set boundaries as soon as things begin to escalate. I can remember times when I said "This isn't working right now. I'd like you to do something else, or else work on it like I suggested. I've explained my plan: you need to play just that four-note bit and then stop. If you insist on just running through from the beginning of the section, then I'm done. We can practice properly together another time." I think the sort of dynamic you describe can easily become habitual, especially if practice sessions are ending in tears and frustration, because that negative emotional memory will affect the next day's session, making meltdowns more likely. And so on. Vicious cycle.
If you can manage to end practice sessions while they're smiling and happy for two weeks straight -- even if this means they're very short indeed on both time and substance -- I can almost guarantee that you'll break the cycle of negativity. And then you'll more than make up for whatever productivity might have been lost during the two weeks.
(Suzuki teacher, and mom to Erin-16, Suzuki violin 'grad' 2007, Noah-13, Suzuki viola Book 8, Sophie-11, Suzuki violin Book 7, and Fiona-7, Suzuki violin Book 5)