How are habits formed? We do something over and over and over again. We spend hours, days, weeks and months doing the same thing again and again. We create neural pathways in our brain that associate doing that activity to a certain time of the day, smell, etc; and the more we do that activity, the stronger those pathways become. Suddenly, we look back and we see this long trail of patterns we've left behind us. The irony is our surprise! Like the drive to the grocery store, somehow we got from point "A" to point "B" and didn't realize what was happening along the way; our subconscious took control of the wheel and left us in the dust. Now the real question is: How do we create conscious habits?
As adults, we often don't realize that conscious habits are a sort of "practice" in and of themselves; it takes effort, energy, constant reminders, and of course, time--lots and lots of time. In the case of a child, they are a sort of "blank slate," but don't be fooled, creating conscious habits with your child can be a very challenging task. For example, how do you teach your child to brush their teeth? First, you remind them incessantly to brush--to do the action of brushing their teeth and of the importance behind brushing their teeth. Second, you teach them how to brush their teeth--putting on the proper amount of toothpaste, making sure the brush is wet enough, where to brush, when to brush, how much pressure to apply when brushing, what motion to brush in, length of time spent brushing, spitting out the excess saliva and toothpaste, etc. Third, you find creative ways to help your child remember to brush on their own teeth and to make the "experience" a fun one. For only one habit, this is a lot of work! But one day, the child goes into the bathroom, gets out the toothpaste, turns on the water, leans over the sink, and brushes their teeth all by themselves, and suddenly, their teeth are clean!
Forming practice habits with your child has to be a conscious, daily endeavor. Someone taught you to brush your teeth each day--to see the importance and the etiquette behind the act of brushing your teeth. Now, you have the opportunity to teach your child to consciously form this practicing habit. To begin the process, remind them incessantly to pick-up their instrument and make beautiful music. As the "home-teacher," you can teach them how to properly hold the instrument, how to develop practicing techniques and strategies covered in their lesson, and how to make basic skills part of their "practicing ritual" (ie, packing and up-packing their instrument, etc.). Lastly, you can make the practicing experience a fun one! Surround your child with music--turn on the Suzuki CD or some classical music! Dance! Sing! Create an environment where your child can have an effective practice time--a quiet, well lit place they can call their own, include: a music stand, a pencil, all of their music and other supplies. Get creative! Learn new ways to make practice time fun! This year, I have created the "52 Practice Tips" series to give you a new practice technique to try each week of 2014! Experiment with different practice tips--you never know which ones your child will prefer until you try them! As the parent, you are the coach and the cheerleader for your child; if you want them to succeed in creating healthy concious habits, you have to teach and encourage them every step of the way. Practicing the violin is a habit you have to instill in your child--they will not want to do it on their own; but eventually, after hours of torturing...I mean, reminding them to practice, teaching them how to practice at home, and dreaming up creative ways of doing the same two measures of music repeatedly, your child will begin to pick-up the instrument on their own just to enjoy the sound they create, they will start to see the joy that the music and their instrument can bestow on themselves and others, and suddenly, their praciticing.
"Knowledge is not skill. Knowledge plus ten thousand times is skill."
-Dr. Shinichi Suzuki