How Do You Respond To The Naughty Child?

I recently received an email from a guitar teacher who said they had a very difficult junior aged student who was argumentative and eventually threw a tantrum in the lesson. I wanted to share my advice with everyone as you may experience the same situation at times.

What I Said To The Teacher

For years I believed a large percentage of kids were just not suited to learning guitar for various reasons. You might say I had a ‘fixed’ mindset about children learning guitar but that all changed about 20 years ago. Now while I would never profess to being able to teach any child, there did come a point where it seemed like there was almost no child I couldn’t help. I should say that it wasn’t some sudden revelation. Quite the opposite, it took me many years of trial, error, research and training to reach that point. After spending thousands of hours working with children I became very aware of the different strategies they use and how to apply the right response.

Think Of Teaching Like Chess

A chess master is thinking several moves ahead at any given time to out wit their opponent. This comes from thousands of hours of experience playing the game. As teachers our opponents are our students and I mean this in a good way. They have their own strategies they use and its up to us to counter their negative, often self-sabotaging moves several steps ahead if possible. When I see a child act in a certain way I am considering my options several moves ahead. For example when I see a student who is disagreeable my reaction might be to engage and argue back. This is often counterproductive because disagreement is their way of taking control of the situation. Its basically a smokescreen for their insecurity. By creating this cover they can avoid doing the actual work. In your case you can see how this child’s strategy worked perfectly and got him out of having to do the work. This also reinforces his belief in his strategy. He has probably done this with numerous teachers and  is a master at his strategy.

So What’s My Secret Strategy In Response

In 2 words, be agreeable. When he realises you are not going to argue his strategy comes undone. So when he said “You are wrong” I would have surprised him by saying “Fair enough” and then carried on. The real problem is low self-esteem. Knowing this I would focus on building his confidence first and foremost. Keep the lesson super simple giving him the chance to succeed so you create every opportunity to praise him. Praise him in front of his mother as this is probably where you’ll gain his trust the most. Also, find out what he does or knows well and focus on that. For example he might know all about a certain sport. Get his opinion on the game and ask about who his favourite players are. Its all about winning his trust. When you do this you with challenging students like this boy you will gain a reputation as a remarkable teacher. It takes patience but its worth it. You are not just becoming a better teacher but possibly saving a child from a life of blame and frustration. Discipline is not what’s called for in every situation. Often its compassion and understanding.

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