Parent question: How do I get my 11-year-old daughter to participate in valuable school activities such as music (she plays the violin), rather than just hanging out with her friends?

First, I would like to congratulate your daughter for having good friends! Many don’t, and this makes them very miserable indeed.

What may seem to us like a useless waste of time is often far from it. By spending time together, children and teens learn and practise many valuable social skills – how to have a conversation, how to negotiate and compromise, how to win and lose graciously, how to share and be kind, what kind of jokes make people laugh, what behaviours get on people’s nerves, etc. Their happiness and success in the future will be directly linked to their ability get on with people – bosses, colleagues, friends and future partners. And hanging out with their friends in their tweens is their practice ground.

Furthermore, your daughter is busy with the developmental challenge of establishing her identity and her place in the world. Pre-teen children constantly ask themselves: Who am I? Am I normal? Do I belong? And they are more ilkely to answer these questions positively if they have at least one good friend who accepts them and likes them for who they are – and preferably more than just the one friend. So being with friends is much more important than many of us parents realise.

Show your daughter that you appreciate her popularity, so that she doesn’t think you disapprove of such an important part of her life. This will create good will, and help her be more open to listening to the other things you have to say.

All that said, activities such as sports or music are indeed very valuable. I can give you some ideas about encouraging your daughter to take part, although none is guaranteed to work. All of us parents need to accept that we can influence and direct our children, but ultimately we have no control over what they choose to do. We can motivate them, but we can’t force them, without damaging our relationships with them.

The best way to motivate someone is to link whatever it is that you wish them to do to their own wants and needs. And, since your daughter is so sociable, your way to influence her may be to get her to meet new friends through musical activities.

First, you need to get some information from her. Are any of her friends already taking part in the school orchestra or band? Maybe you can encourage her to go along with one of them? Even if none does, there may be other ‘cool’ kids already there. Perhaps your daughter would like the opportunity to meet them? Or maybe another one of her friends is thinking of joining, and they could do this together. It can be much more fun to join a new activity if you are not alone.

Are there other young people in your social circle that are taking part in musical activity? A recommendation from a slightly older cousin or the son of a family friend can do wonders. Children of this age are much more likely to get inspired by their peers than by us.

Are there any celebrities that your daughter admires, such as favourite actors or singers? They might well have studied music in their youth, which helped them to become who they are today. Will your daughter be willing to make an effort too?

You could also help her see that musical activities will help her make friends easily wherever she goes, as a teenager, student and even as adult. If you play the violin to a reasonable standard, you can always find an orchestra or a band to join. It is almost guaranteed that you will easily be able to meet people who have similar interests to yours. So you do something fun and get new friends at the same time.

Does your daughter have any dreams or goals? Maybe she wants to be a teacher, an actor, TV presenter or just be an interesting person? You can easily show her how music can help. However, it is important that you talk about her dreams, not your own expectations of her. Otherwise this may be perceived as pressure, and she may be tempted to rebel.

Lastly – most children who play instruments love taking part in musical activities. Could there have been any reason for her not to? Perhaps she doesn’t like the teacher, or she fell out with one of the children who participates? It is worth checking with her.

And of course – I’m sure you are doing this anyway – show interest in the activities you value, attend any concerts, listen to her practise and compliment her for effort and participation as well as for achievements.

Good luck!

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