>> Make it fun. Silly games
and experimentation break up the
tedium of practice. For instance, if
your child is playing a musical piece
four times, have him play it once
normally, once standing on one leg,
another time while looking out the
window, and a final time with her
>> Point out the payoff.
Rather than emphasize a performer’s
“moment of perfection”—the
musical solo or home run—give your
child glimpses of the hard work that
leads up to perfection. Scout out
professionals willing to talk about
how their practice routines led to
the thrill of performance. Encourage
your child to search online for
biographical sketches of musicians,
athletes, or artists so they can
understand that top performers are
real people who had to struggle to
develop their talents.
>> Let him choose.
Don’t demand that your child
become passionate about any
pursuit when you can expose him
to a variety of activities and let
him decide what direction to take.
There’s a fine line between letting a
child give up prematurely and
letting him quit once he’s given it a
fair shot and is no longer interested.
>> Help—within limits.
If you plan to observe your child
practicing at home—say, playing
violin in the family room—getting
involved can be constructive. But
there are limits. Ask your child’s
instructor for guidance. There
will be some matters that you can
closely supervise and others that
children need to work through
on their own. Don’t pounce on
every mistake. It’s better to
show enthusiasm for effort and
achievement. But avoid dominating
the practice sessions.
>> Try “pay to play.”
It may surprise you to learn that
kids will pay—at least in part—
when they become passionate
about developing a particular skill.
When Ariana Daniels decided she
wanted to focus on flute playing,
parents Dianne and Aaron made
her a “stakeholder” in the venture.
Ariana paid part of the cost of the
flute, shares maintenance costs for
the instrument, and pays for music.
A similar approach could work
on more costly sports equipment,
such as skis or golf clubs. Because
they’re financially involved, kids
become more motivated and
committed to practice.
>> Control the environment.
The quieter and more peaceful the
environment, the more your child
can focus on practice. Whacking
tennis balls against the garage door
or practicing free throws in the
driveway may not be the best venue
if siblings are getting in the way or
neighborhood friends are distracting
them. Arranging time at a local
school gym or court may be key.
Similarly, a young musician needs a
distraction-free retreat. Make sure
TV, video games and smart phones
are off, and other distractions—
siblings included—are removed from
>> Schedule practice time.
Despite the best intentions, your
child might never quite get around
to practicing. Scheduling regular
practice ensures that time is set
aside for this priority. Schedule
practice for times when your child
is usually at her best—not worn out,
cranky, or sleepy. Your child might
prefer to work straight through
her entire practice time in one
shot—say, 30 minutes—or play two
15-minute sessions with a break in
the middle. Let her decide.
>> Offer rewards—
carefully. Rewarding kids with
money or treats for practice can
backfire. Treats for practice don’t
necessarily create real motivation—
the drive to develop a talent just
for love of the activity. A better
alternative: Occasionally provide a
treat after practice. This way, the
good feeling is connected with the
practice, but isn’t the motivation.
>> Set incremental goals.
Practicing toward a big goal, such
as mastering an entire song on the
piano or memorizing a complete
martial arts routine, can be
overwhelming. Set smaller goals
for each day’s practice. This might
mean stretching the fingers a bit
farther to hit desired piano keys. In
baseball, it might mean practicing
a swing with a different grip. Soon
you’ll hear your child saying, “Wow,
I did better today.”
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