When it comes to teaching singing to children, there’s an important third party that you must factor into the equation: the parents.
At its best, the parent/teacher relationship can be hugely positive. Having an enthusiastic ally who provides bucket-loads of encouragement and reinforces positive practice habits can be a huge bonus.
But at its worst, well, we’ve all heard the horror stories about toxic parents who undermine, criticise and suck the joy out of learning.
To learn how to manage this all-important relationship, the Singing Teachers Talk podcast spoke to US-based educator Dana Lentini. The author of Teaching the Child Singer shared her tips on dealing with difficult parents.
Understand the ‘singing teaching triangle’
Dana describes the teacher/child/parent dynamic as ‘the singing teaching triangle’. “Unlike working with teenagers, young adults or adults, when you work with children, you have this teaching triangle,” she says.
“That means you have to work with the parents. They’re paying you, and they’re the ones setting up the lesson times. You must have a good relationship with your parents.”
Along with giving emotional support, parents provide all sorts of practical help, from sorting out the IT if you teach online to ensuring the child gets to class if you teach in-person.
Build the right foundations
It’s best to establish clear expectations (and boundaries) from the outset. Dana has compiled a handout that she gives to parents when a new student starts with her.
“It’s designed for parents and covers how to talk to your child after a lesson or a performance,” she says. “It covers what you should ask them like what’s your favourite thing you did in your lesson today? Or what is your favourite song to sing?.
“We’re planting little seeds and hoping the garden will grow. I like to plant little seeds, so I don’t have to go to the parent and say, ‘Whoa, you are a pushy parent’. I try to gently nurture them.
“For example, if a parent is interjecting a lot [during a lesson], I might gently send the parent a message saying, ‘Your child’s doing so great, this might be a good time for us to work on her independence. Let’s see if she can do her lessons on her own.’ And mostly parents enjoy that.”
Get to know the family dynamic
Usually, one parent takes a more active role in the child’s musical education. It’s useful to know which parent that is, especially if you need to raise an issue.
“There’s usually one parent who oversees things,” Dana says. “It’s interesting to see how the child is more relaxed with this parent or more on guard with that parent. These are just little clues that I’m taking note of in those lessons.”
- Her five-step teaching system.
- How she sources repertoire.
- How long she thinks a child’s singing lesson should be.
Why not learn more about teaching children from one of the best, Dr Jenevora Williams. She has created this informative video: Teaching Young Voices.