Posted by: Marie | December 2, 2013

(894) Bad attitudes allowed

Post #894
[Private journal entry written on Thursday, July 19, 2012]

So, I had a lesson with Renee this afternoon. Her step-mom, April, brought her and April had her two little girls with her, ages three and five . . .

It turns out that Renee’s dad was not home from work yet, so the girls couldn’t stay home with him, which means they had to come along to the lesson . . . and that made the atmosphere a bit noisy, to say the least . . .

The girls were running and climbing all over the place and making lots of noise, so I turned on the two digital keyboards I have set up in my studio, plugged headsets into both of them, and showed the girls how to change the voices and use all the cool buttons. That kept them entertained for awhile, although the three-year-old didn’t understand the concept of speaking quietly . . . I guess wearing a headset creates significant confusion for someone that age around who can hear what, LOL . . .

Finally, Renee and I got settled into the lesson. We looked at a very short song (12 measures) she was supposed to have practiced . . . she said she had not had much chance to practice it. So, I worked with her to learn it a bit better . . . she played it through a couple of times . . . of course, she made mistakes and that seemed to bother her . . . I assured her that it is normal to not be able to play a new piece very well at first, that it takes time to learn it and polish it . . .


Photo by Martin Chen

When I asked her to play through it a third time, she said she didn’t want to play anymore. When I asked her why, she said it was a confidence thing . . . she doesn’t like to perform with an audience (meaning her step-mom and step-sisters).

I pushed her a little bit to play through the piece a couple more times, but she wouldn’t. So, finally, I told her that, if she would play through it one more time, we could go work with the composition software on the computer . . . then the “audience” wouldn’t be an issue.

She agreed . . . and she played through the piece one more time . . . and she actually had a pretty willing attitude about it.

Then, as promised, we headed to the computer.

I spent some time showing her how to use the software . . . I set up a template that I often use with students that gives them a framework for composing . . . they make changes to one aspect at a time until they have created a unique composition . . . it is pretty easy to follow and most students find it pretty easy to master.

When we got to the point when it was time for her to start making changes to the composition, I tried to turn over control of the computer to her. But, she just shook her head and put on her helpless face. I asked her what was the issue . . . she just shrugged . . . I asked her to use her voice to tell me what was going on . . . she just shook her head again and drooped her shoulders . . .

This was the first time in my life I have ever had to deal with someone behaving like that. In my growing-up experience, I would never have behaved like that . . . I would have gotten whipped or smacked or something . . .

I’m not saying that that is a good way to be raised . . . rather, I’m saying that I find it hard to fathom why someone – an 11-year-old – would think it is okay to behave like that.

My mind was racing . . . the best guess I had for her behavior is because it has worked before with other people . . . like her parents . . . but what has “worked” before? What was she trying to make happen?

Was she truly scared or embarrassed?

Was she trying to get out of doing the work? That didn’t make sense to me . . . she had specifically asked to take piano lessons . . . and she has expressed a strong interest in composing music on the computer . . . so why would she be refusing to do what she so strongly indicated she wants to do?

Was she trying get me to spend our lesson time just talking, like we did during the last lesson? If so, would that be a bad thing? What if she really needs to talk . . . more than she needs a piano lesson? But, with her step-mom nearby, I didn’t think “talking” was really an option . . .

I took a deep breath and checked in with my gut feelings. And, my gut was telling me several things . . .

1) This was an attempt to manipulate me,

2) She is really practiced at manipulating adults,

3) It is important for the health of our relationship that I not let her get away with ANYTHING that resembles manipulation,

4) Her attempt to manipulate me was being driven by a very real and out-of-control basic human need that needed very real attention and care . . . and she was desperately asking for that from me in a very convoluted way.

Of course, I didn’t know what she REALLY needed from me . . . attention, sure . . . affirmation, sure . . . but why was she resisting my efforts to get her to do what she says she really wants to do? What was she hoping to gain from doing so?

I’m not sure that an 11-year-old ever really understands why she does what she does . . . I remember myself at that age . . . I often didn’t know why I was acting out the way I acted out . . . I remember being very confused and not knowing what I really wanted and needed . . . much less how to ask for it . . .

So, I said, “Okay . . . what would you like to do with our lesson time this afternoon?”

(I kept the conversation hushed . . . we were sitting at my desk, a fair distance from the girls playing on the keyboards and from April . . . I was trying to maintain an feeling of confidentiality, as much as I could . . . )

She shrugged . . .

“So . . . you aren’t willing to play the piano because we have an audience . . . we came over to the computer so you wouldn’t have to deal with that . . . and now you aren’t willing to do the computer. I’m running out of ideas. So, I guess you need to come up with an idea . . . what would you like to do with our time?”

She shrugged again . . . this time, she lifted her head and looked at me square in the eye . . . I got the sense she was sizing me up . . .

I really didn’t want to stand up in resignation and walk over to April and announce that I can’t do anything with her . . . that I had given up on her . . . take her home, away from my studio . . .

I think that is what she is used to people doing . . . I think that is what she expects from people, from adults . . .

I really wanted to find a way through to her . . . so, I tried again . . .

“If you aren’t going to participate, then it is pretty tough for me to teach you about the piano. We have to do something with our time . . . something related to music and piano . . . so, what do you want to do?”

No response . . . she looked at the floor . . . then looked at me again . . .

“I’m here, and I’m doing my part . . . and I need for you to participate and do your part . . . otherwise, there is no reason for us to be here in a lesson. We can’t sit here and do nothing. You have a part to play in this and you have to participate, there’s no way around that. That’s what needs to happen. It’s up to you how this is going to play out.”

And we sat in silence for a full minute.

Then she said, “Okay.”

She rolled her chair up to the computer and started doing what I had asked her to do.

I let out the breath I hadn’t realized I had been holding.

She wasn’t enthusiastic about the computer work, but she did it. And, at the end of the lesson, when I printed out her still-in-progress composition, she acted like she couldn’t care less about the piece she had just created. I encouraged her to try to play it at home . . . she shrugged . . .

So, even though she didn’t show enthusiasm, she did do what I asked of her. And that’s all I’m looking for at this point.

I am aware that April was listening in on our conversation to some extent . . . rightly so, of course . . . and I wonder what she will report back to Renee’s dad . . .

I hope her report is not that things went so badly that they should pull Renee from lessons . . . I hope she is allowed to – able to – come back for another lesson or two, at least. I don’t feel like my interaction with her is complete and finished yet . . . if that makes sense . . . I have a sense that I can help her take a few steps in a positive direction.

Maybe, if in the future she won’t have an “audience”, she’ll do even better . . . maybe . . .

And, I’m really okay if she demonstrates bad attitudes, as long as she does the work . . . I understand that the “bad” attitude is a protective barrier . . . I’m only hoping that, in time, she will start to believe she needs that barrier less and less.

Time will tell.

Quotes 804

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