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Parents' Role in Student Success

Understand the Young and Less Rational Brain

Over the years, I have met hundreds of parents, and in observing how they view their children’s ability to make rational decisions, many overlook child brain development. The rational portion of the brain is still developing in young students and into the teen years. The University of Rochester Medical Center has states about teens (as well as children), “The rational part of a teen’s brain isn’t fully developed and won’t be until age 25 or so. In fact, recent research has found that adult and teen brains work differently. Adults think with the prefrontal cortex, the brain’s rational part. This is the part of the brain that responds to situations with good judgment and an awareness of long-term consequences. Teens process information with the amygdala. This is the emotional part.”

Keeping this in mind, parents can help their children to move forward with their learning, even when their more emotional and irrational brains may not want to practice or stay committed. I have had literally dozens of conversations with adult learners who wished their parents “would have made me stick to my lessons.” As adults, with fully developed brains, their rational self realized how short-sided their thinking was as children, and quitting was not the solution.

Another article suggests that parents can teach their children to think more critically. “Research suggests that explicit instruction in critical thinking may make kids smarter, more independent, and more creative.” This shows that parents can have success in moving their children toward more rational thinking and allow them to truly see the benefits of delayed gratification and how higher rewards come with higher commitment.

It is then important to understand that every younger student will need assistance with learning about cost/benefit decisions and about commitment, especially about the reward outcomes of those commitments. They will need the parents' guidance on the Law of the Harvest, reaping what you sow, and letting them have experience with it, not just teaching it with words. Parents need to nurture them with this wisdom as the challenges of staying committed to seeing the fruits is always part of learning - and will be needed to reach their goals. Parents can realize they can bridge their child from a sometimes impetuous learner into a resilient and committed adult.

Be Proactive with Positive Reinforcement

A familiar scenario - a parent is frustrated that their child will not practice and decides to stop the lessons as punishment to the child. Withholding lessons as a punishment has far-reaching negative effects on the student. Positive motivation through the tougher times, and finding positive solutions have the benefit of learning positivism through challenges but also builds a strong bond of trust with parent and child. As all learning and achieving take resilience, commitment, and a positive attitude - a negative reinforcement approach of stopping lessons should be reconsidered.

Proactive positivism is learned and best taught by example. Parents' words and behaviors set a pattern for their children. Helping children tackle their musical and life challenges starts at home and parents can use some simple techniques.

The greatest tool is always positive praise. One article from research states, “Praise can improve children’s intrinsic motivation and help them develop feelings of competence and better learning outcomes. For maximum effectiveness, aim for at least 3 times more praise than discipline or corrective statements, with a ratio of 5 to 1 being ideal” (Rodriquez & Sprick, n.d.).

This article reminds us that behavior-specific praise (in the moment of the behavior and not delayed) has strong positive outcomes on feelings of confidence and motivation.

Another well-known technique is to point out progress and compliment any advancement, even if small. This is usually best done by asking the student to periodically play for their parents or family. This is a powerful way to show interest and support as well as a strong positive reinforcer, not to mention the confidence that is built.

Even needed criticism can be done in a positive manner. The positive sandwich is the way to go! Start with a positive comment on their playing, give them a needed criticism in a soft way, and finish off with another layer of positive praise for their efforts. A great recipe for success!

Parents and teachers can remember we are building not just music learners, but positive learners in general. We are setting the example about how to tackle challenges, keeping committed, and working towards goals - all in a positive way. This takes proactive actions by parents at home and the teacher in the studio. The website Positive Psychology suggests that “Perhaps most important, positive reinforcement can simply be more effective, especially in the long-term. Learning accompanied by positive feelings and associations is more likely to be remembered, even beyond the end of the reinforcement schedule.”

Here are two links that may be helpful...

Books on positive parenting

100+ Positive Parenting tips, skills and techniques


As with any endeavor, the parents' support and encouragement are paramount and THE key indicator of success. The young mind is still developing into rational thinking and the parent’s patience and investment in teaching commitment are needed. Young children and even teens sometimes do not understand that anything of real value comes with sacrifice - and this must be taught. Parents should allow rewards to be experienced - this is so vital to deep learning of anything of real-life value. Parents have the maturity to share and the logical thinking to bridge their child to great rewards with effort.

Along the way to higher achievement in music, parents should use proactive positivism. They are building a positive learner, one who faces challenges with positive solutions and keeps searching for solutions, even when their emotions tempt them to quit. Positive praise and continued support build the relationship between parents and children. Setting the example of a “can do” attitude and positive energy begins at home.

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