If you’re a private music instructor (or school teacher or parent or babysitter) then you’ve been here at one time or another. You start your lesson with one of your most attentive and obedient students when they suddenly pull a Jekyll and Hyde on you! Whining, complaining, an all-out tantrum, picking lint off of their dirty bare feet… you know what I mean! Where did this come from? Why is this happening?  

… And on a day you didn’t get your coffee!!!

This happened to me last week, in fact!

Before you go lose your mind or patience (or slap their wrists with a ruler like one of my piano teachers did), consider some possible scenarios:


Its possible that your student is feeling overwhelmed by their new song (maybe they’ve never played a 5 page song and it just LOOKS intimidating). Perhaps the last few lessons have been a little more than they can handle or maybe they simply can’t wrap their mind around that newest theory idea. You could try breaking the idea down or slowing your pace. You could teach something similar but simpler. If this doesnt work, go back to the last place your student was successful and start from there.


As much as this might seem like a contradiction to my first point, it’s not. Kids have unique talents, needs and circumstances. I teach piano lessons to a very bright 8 year old boy who displayed some behavior issues last year. Turns out he was just bored. We weren’t moving through material at a fast enough pace. So I found a challenging version of the Star Wars theme and his bad behaviors quickly disappeared — he thrived on the challenge!

Too much work, not enough play!

Kids need a break sometimes too! Let’s face it, kids have a lot going on these days! Sometimes their lesson is in the same day that they’ve had 3 tests at school followed by a 2 hour soccer practice with a strict coach. I keep a few fun activities up my sleeve for days like this!

It’s something else entirely.

I once spent half of a lesson requesting that one of my students stop talking like a baby, by the end of the lesson it was revealed that the student’s parents had just gotten divorced.  On another occasion, a student was ill and hadn’t realized it yet.

And then there was the time that my student seemed to have a complete memory lapse.  After gently reminding her of the concepts I thought she had previously mastered while she stared off distracted, she suddenly blurted out that her mom died suddenly and unexpectedly over the weekend…

I had no idea.

We spent the rest of the lesson crying and talking.

Kids process grief, disappointment and discomfort in various ways. My job for several years was to run music therapy sessions.  I’m so thankful for therapy experience on the days when my students behavior issues are caused by “something else entirely”.   You may not have official training for these kinds of days but I’d venture a guess that you are compassionate and have good intuition… that’s part of what makes up a good teacher after all.

What about your lessons?  Have you observed other senarios cause behavioral issues?What do you do when behavioral issues arise?


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