I don’t negotiate with terrorists

We’ve been under assault – a sort of psychological warfare in the house this weekend. On the surface, we have a loving, playful and musical seven-year old. Beneath the surface, an instinctive plotter lurks.

Although the subject of this current dispute is piano practice, it’s not really about the piano. It’s about how he deals with a challenge. His response to a song, book, swim test or other task that is a stretch is to get angry, frustrated and combative. He launches attack after attack on us – giving us a preview of his teenage years. We know we cannot make him something he is not, but we also know that he needs to develop skills to break down a challenge into achievable parts. He needs to learn the merit of practice and hard work to conquer challenges and earn self-esteem.

But what to do when he’s frustrated, enraged and nasty? It’s not as if he’ll go back to the task when he cools off. We’ve tried sitting with him to answer questions as he practices or works on the project. We’ve tried threats and rewards. We’ve questioned our own priorities – how important is piano if he’s more interested in drums right now? It is important – it’s the foundation for music.

In a battle of wills, we lose. If he doesn’t learn to practice/work hard, he’ll lose in life. It seems stupid to battle over piano. And we don’t negotiate when he’s enraged. Today’s 15 minutes of piano practiceEnjoying performance took and hour and half. He claimed he doesn’t like the song he’s assigned. Of course, he hasn’t liked any of them when he first starts, so we cannot put much weight on his protest.

Many hours later, I told him the deal. Once soccer season ends, he can start drum lessons if he practices piano every day without argument. Every argument pushes his drum lessons back another day. We’ll have a large calendar to track this. Someday, I hope he looks back and says that learning to practice piano was a good lesson for life. And hopefully, when he is a teenager, we’ll have one less terrorist attack.

What ideas have worked for you - working with their wiring and still teaching them important life lessons?