Q: What is an appropriate age for a child to begin learning a musical instrument? I've looked into lessons in my area and teachers accept children as young as two or three for violin and piano lessons. My three-year-old has asked to learn piano and while this is something we would like to pursue, we are wary of her beginning too young and/or being pushed or getting burned out. On the other hand, most people I know of who are both proficient and truly love playing their instrument as adults started at a very young age. Can you advise?
A: Learning a musical instrument is like learning a new language, and preschool children are able to learn a second language much more easily than older children. I believe every child should learn to play a musical instrument. An instrument can be a great source of personal satisfaction as well as one of the best possible outlets for creative expression. I don’t, however, believe in pushing by either parent or teacher. Don't be a “Tiger Mom” about this. Take a relaxed approach. If your daughter feels pressure from you to practice, for example, she may push back and lose interest altogether. Let her curiosity, her natural inclination to learn new things, rule. If she's destined to be a great pianist or violinist, it will happen.
Q: My three-year-old is being bullied by another girl in her preschool program. Today, this girl pushed her to the floor and snatched a toy away from her. The teacher is trying to handle it, but in the meantime can you recommend any books I can read to her that would help her better understand bullying and learn how to deal with it?
A: To qualify as bullying, aggression must be premeditated and inflicted with deliberate intent to humiliate. Having had lots of experience consulting with preschool programs, I am reasonably certain that your daughter isn’t being bullied. The perpetrator in this case is simply an aggressive child who has figured out that your daughter isn’t going to defend herself. The aggression is impulsive as opposed to premeditated and happens when the other child wants something your daughter is playing with. What you’re describing is the sort of thing that is likely to happen in groups of toddlers. It’s virtually inevitable. In fact, some studies have found that toddlers in preschool groups are more aggressive, on average, than toddlers who stay at home. This casts doubt on the conventional wisdom.
I know of no books that would help a child this age put another child’s aggression into proper perspective. The best solution is to arrange with the teacher to keep the two children separated. If that’s not possible, then the only solution might be to find another preschool program for your daughter; or, if you can, keep her at home another year. I’d vote for the latter.