I hear this so much. Honestly, I hated practicing as a kid, too. I didn’t start to enjoy practicing until I learned how to do it well; I didn’t start to enjoy practicing until I started having flow experiences (when you lose track of time during an activity).
As their teacher, I only see my students for up to 1 hour/week, so the best that I can do about this situation is to teach them how to spend their practice time better so that it is not boring. I often tell my students, “I don’t live with you, so I can’t make sure you do this each day; you have to be the one to get it done.”
The truth is, children, especially young children, are just not responsible enough yet to get themselves to their instrument and practice well. There are adults who do live with them, though, and can make sure they do this every day: parents.
I understand parenting is hard, and getting your child to practice can feel like one more battle, but if you are going to pay the money for the lessons, you, too, are experiencing consequences when they don’t practice (the consequences of having your time and hard-earned money wasted).
As a parent, if you are dissatisfied with the amount of practice your child is putting in, you have two choices: chill out or lean in.
IF your child is still progressing, even though their practice is not consistent, you could choose to chill out. Of course it is frustrating for you that your child is progressing on inconsistent practice because you know that if they can progress on so little, imagine what they could do with more! I have had students who didn’t practice and weren’t getting anywhere and I recommended to their parents that they stop wasting their money and time. But IF they are still moving forward, you are not yet wasting your time and money. This may just be a case of you needing to recalibrate your expectations, depending on what you are wanting your child to get out of lessons.
Option two (and given my personality, I prefer this option) is to lean in. Leaning in does not mean nagging; it means holding them accountable. It means setting a rule and sticking to it. Set a positive outcome and a negative outcome. For example, “if you practice, you get to do x activity that I know you enjoy (this can be something they haven’t gotten to do every day or just extra time that they wouldn’t normally get to do this activity, and might need to be different for each child). If you don’t practice, you lose the privilege of x activity (these don’t necessarily have to be the same activity – you know what your kids like and dislike).” Sit down with your child(ren) and let them decide what those outcomes should be (with your approval/veto power). Then it’s less draconian and more like “this is a contract of behavior we have agreed upon.” And then don’t nag, just enforce the rule. “I’m so glad you practiced today! Now you get to do x; that’s awesome!” or “You didn’t practice; you don’t get to do x. Sorry you don’t like it, but that’s the rule. This is what we agreed on.” Repeat those lines like it’s your job. Stick to the script; do not negotiate. Consistency is key.
By the way, this works for homework, too. Or chores. Or really any activity that you want your child to do. My four year old son understands that when he naps, he gets to watch TV in the afternoon/evening, and when he doesn’t nap, he loses that privilege. He understands that if he cleans up his toys quickly at night, we get more reading time together; if he doesn’t clean up his toys, they go up on a shelf and he is not allowed to play with them the next day. He understands that if he finishes his dinner he gets to eat dessert; if he doesn’t finish his dinner, it goes in the fridge to be eaten as leftovers the next day and there’s no more food after dinner. He still tries to push boundaries, but quite often, he’s the one reminding us what the rules are. When we come across a new situation that we haven’t set a rule for, we ask him what he thinks should happen and more often than not we don’t have to veto.
You can apply this to anything you are trying to work up the discipline to do yourself, too. Make a reward/consequence for yourself. You have to be really honest with yourself for this to work, though. When you are doing this with a child, you are there to hold them accountable. If you are doing this for yourself, you are the only one holding yourself accountable (unless you enlist the help of an accountability partner).
In the end, this is what we are talking about when we describe developing discipline as one of the major benefits of music lessons.