General, Piano teaching

The curse of the pushy parent

Guest post by A Piano Teacher

Anyone who teaches will know the type – and those of us who teach privately will know the type very well. The pushy parent – sometimes also known as the Tiger Parent – whose demands seem to take up far more time than anyone else’s, whose child/children require special treatment, and who generally creates far more work for the teacher than is really necessary.

The pushiness manifests itself in a number of ways and there are distinct “types” within the genus of Pushy Parent. There is the one who is determined to squeeze every ounce of value out of the lesson fees, who demands refunds for missed lessons (despite the teacher’s studio policy that there are no refunds except for lessons cancelled or missed by the teacher), who queries increases in lesson fees, and who – guess what – regularly pays late. This parent will also often call, text or email the teacher at unreasonable times of the day, outside “office hours”, and expect an immediate response.

Then there is the parent who demands their child is “fast-tracked” through exams, despite the teacher’s firm assurances that attainment in music comes through consistent, careful study, not jumping onto that exam treadmill and notching up the grades.

Another “type” sets herself and her child up in competition with another child (and parents) who may be having lessons with the same teacher. Grade exams, student concerts and music festivals become hard fought contests and if little Johnny or Emily doesn’t achieve a Distinction, or win first prize, the fault lies firmly at the feet of the teacher. Such parents will often ignore the advice of teachers regarding exam or festival preparedness and will withdraw the child from lessons to seek a teacher who will fall in with their wishes.

Then there is the parent who “re-teaches” the child between lessons, because she believes she knows better than the teacher. This can create quite serious difficulties for teacher and student, as the student receives confused signals, and sometimes what the parent is teaching is just plain wrong!

Of course parents want their children to do well and to succeed, and a good teacher will appreciate this and will support and encourage the child to the best of his/her abilities. And some children actively thrive on being pushed, if it is handled in the right way, with realistic targets accompanied by plenty of praise and positive endorsements. But sometimes the pushy parent’s behaviour and attitude can have a detrimental effect on the child by placing unrealistic expectations on him/her: if the child does not meet these expectations he/she can feel demoralised, disappointed and lacking in motivation. Such behaviour can also increase a child’s anxiety, sometimes to the point where they will be so overcome with nerves in an exam, concert or festival situation that they are unable to perform successfully.

It strikes me that a lot of this pushy behaviour stems from the parent’s own issues which in some cases can be traced back to their own childhood. Perhaps they were also pushed relentlessly by their own parents and the behaviour is simply “learnt”. Or perhaps they are making up for some failing or lack in their own life by living their life vicariously through their children.

As teachers we have a responsibility to manage the expectations of our students and their parents. If we do not feel a student is ready to take Grade 1, or indeed Grade 8, we need to explain this to student and parent. Some parents seem genuinely not to understand the amount of time, commitment and application that goes into learning a musical instrument. We rely on parents to reinforce our messages about practising and to ensure practising is undertaken between lessons. This leads to noticeable progression in the student, and they can then draw satisfaction from seeing improvements in their playing and musical understanding.

Fortunately, in my experience, pushy parents are in the minority (though they do loom larger than life when they are being particularly difficult!), and most are pleasant to deal with, are supportive of what I am trying to do, and treat me with respect.

Further reading:

Parents, Parents, Parents, Parents

Aspirational parents condemn their children to a desperate, joyless life

How to increase your kid’s performance anxiety (not that you’d want to)

The Virtuoso Parent

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