By: Alyson Schäfer

Here is a conversation I had with a mom about her issues with her children’s behaviour in their lessons.

I was wondering what advice you can offer about children and extra curricular activities. We have a three year old who we enrolled in a half hour piano lesson and a half hour skating lesson each week. It is like pulling teeth to get him to perform or co-operate and listen to the instructors. I wonder if we are pushing him too hard, given that he is only three. He says he really enjoys both activities and is quite excited to go each week but once he begins the lesson he seems reluctant to try. The teachers at skating lessons say he is more than capable of skating he just chooses not to. During music class he acts silly, pretends he doesn’t know the keys on the piano or the songs when I’ve seen him play and heard him sing when not on demand. We don’t want to have more of a vested interest in these activities than he does and we are not sure why he is reluctant to take part or cooperate. Any thoughts?

I replied:

Thanks for your question.

My experience has been with my own kids, that activities that children truly like and show and interest in, all too often get ruined by the process of formal lessons that add a competitive element and children feel performance pressure. If your son likes to skate – take him skating with YOU! As family fun! He’ll catch on…. Keep the joy in stimulating his interest. When we mandate ANYTHING it looses its joy.

The acting silly may be undue attention seeking or it may be a way of avoiding performing, were he feels judged.

Three seems really early to me for starting piano. My daughter started at 7 and I was relieved we had not started at 6. Not sure what they learn at 3 myself, but I am not a music expert by any means.

Keep the joy alive, and don’t feel like lessons are the only way to go. I did very few lessons with my girls, but the house was alive with activities, field trips, swimming dates, skating fun, music to dance to and instruments to play with.

Well – this mom replied back, and it seems we have more information to support this idea of “fun over formal” when it comes to activities:

Thanks for the feedback Alyson. I think all too often we get caught up in the organized activity or lesson rat race. It’s funny I put both my two year old and three year old in swimming lessons last year. Prior to lessons and even now they are great little fish with no fear of the water, will dive under and try new things. Once I put them in the lesson format neither of them would swim and they would act as though they were afraid of the water. Take them out of lessons they are just fine.

I will try taking my son skating and pull back on the music lessons (accompanied by 5 days of homework that he has no interest in) and see how it goes. I really appreciate your insight. Please feel free to use any of this correspondence for your website. I will let you know how it works out.

{BB reference:} If you have had similar experiences, or if you have a thought about lessons, please visit Alyson’s website at


About the author
Alyson Schäfer is a psychotherapist, parent coach and popular public speaker. She teaches parent education classes and works with parents one-on-one in her parent coaching practice.

Alyson is called on regularly by the media as a parenting expert. She has been featured in articles in Today’s Parent, Chatelaine, Canadian Living and Reader’s Digest. She has also been interviewed by the CBC and has appeared on TV shows like Planet Parent, Agenda, Health on the Line, W-Live with Erin Davis, and the CHCH Morning Show.

November 10, 2005, in In Public & School
Article re-published with permission,