My child the gorilla?

"When I try to give constructive criticism, my child just regresses, argues, or gets silly."

If you are experiencing resistance, it may be because your child is experiencing your feedback as negative criticism.

Think about it. If you had someone nit-picking your every action at work (maybe you do) would you perform at your best?

Imagine while cooking a meal, you were interrupted every couple of minutes by someone standing over your shoulder saying, “No, not this way, THAT way” or “You’re not doing that right.” It would not only be inefficient, but you would be discouraged from continuing.

Critiquing your child can create a “negative feedback loop” where the child begins behaving in a way that he or she knows will distract you. It might involve arguing, acting lazy, running around, or becoming overly chatty. If you double down trying to “enforce” the practicing in some way, things get worse, because your child gets upset and soon is unable to practice or learn.

Kids usually resort to these tactics when they feel incompetent and don’t know how to express that verbally. What they need most at that moment is affirmation, not critique. You do your children a great service in life if you can help them to love and affirm themselves in their efforts, in all the small ways they succeed. You’ll hear your affirmation come out in better music and you’ll be surprised at how many problems are solved on their own.


Ask curious questions. Instead of making critical statements, focus on finding a question to ask about their playing. Ask open ended questions that allow them to process what is happening on their own.

  •    What are you feeling right now?
  •    What do you think is going on right now?
  •    Do you like anything about this music? Which part specifically?
  •    Do you think we can ask your teacher about this trouble spot next time?
  •    What in particular is making you happy/impatient/excited/frustrated?
  •    Can you play it one more time for me?

Find 5 good things. See if you can think of five affirming things to say about the way the child is playing at that moment. Ask your child to help you think of the five good things.

Listen again. Rather than arguing, listening together is a great way to solve a disagreement.

Record it. This method is good if  the child doesn't acknowledge an error he is consistently making. When you record what is happening and play it back, both you and your child have a more objective basis for evaluation. Listening together to a recording removes the need for the child to hear your critical voice, and creates a safe space to affirm what is a better way.

REMEMBER: When a negative feedback loop occurs, err on the side of affirmation. Music will become a discovery process, and you and your child will both be much happier for it.