/, Instrumental Teaching, Parent Communication, Piano Teaching, Studio Policy, Time Management/Make-up Lesson Boundaries – Are you enabling bad behavior?

Make-up lesson boundaries - Are you enabling bad behavior? You can interrupt the law of cause and effect when you do this. | ComposeCreate.com #make-up #lesson #piano #business #policy #quote

Make-up Lesson Boundaries – Are you enabling bad behavior?

You’ve heard about the importance of setting boundaries, right? About 10 years ago, that phase, “setting boundaries” was all the rage in counseling. So many books were written about it and honestly, I got a little tired of hearing about it.

But recently, I had a situation in my life in which I was getting emotionally exhausted with fixing and excusing someone else’s issues. Someone sent me an email with a little blurb from Dr. Henry Cloud that really woke me up.

The subject line was:

“The most exhausting and toxic thing you can do to yourself”

This is what he said that made a huge impression:

We know that the Law of Cause and Effect is a basic law of life.

If you don’t take care of your body when you’re young, it will wear out sooner as you get older. If you speed in your vehicle, you just might get pulled over and get a ticket.

[But]…the Law of Cause and Effect can be interrupted. And those who have no boundaries are usually the ones who are prone to do the interrupting. Just as we can interfere with the law of gravity by catching a glass falling off of a table, people can interfere with the Law of Cause and Effect by stepping in and rescuing an irresponsible person.

“What?!” I thought. “It’s me that is part of the problem? Not just the irresponsible person whose life is falling apart because of their decisions? Not the person who’s asking me to help bail them out?”

Gulp. Innately, I knew it was true.

This reminded me of the make-up lesson situation in which teachers often find themselves. For teachers who are giving make-up lessons, perhaps thinking in terms of “make-up lesson boundaries” would be a good exercise! [Quick caveat: There are a number of choices that are fine and perfectly acceptable on the “giving make-up lessons continuum.” So, please do not read this as a judgement against what you do! My goal is just to encourage all teachers to thoroughly examine the effect that giving make-up lessons has on everyone!]

Are we enabling over-scheduling and bad behavior by giving make-up lessons?

Make-up lesson boundaries - Are you enabling bad behavior? You can interrupt the law of cause and effect when you do this. | ComposeCreate.com #make-up #lesson #piano #business #policy #quote When we don’t have boundaries with make-up lessons, we are interrupting the natural law of cause and effect. And when we do this, it actual enables the bad behavior of parents who are over-scheduled, demanding, or who just don’t know how to say “no” to things. 

Now, don’t misunderstand. Just because someone asks for a make-up lesson doesn’t make them a demanding person. But reasonable people should be able to respect the boundaries that you draw for yourself and your family when you say “I don’t give make-up lessons” or “My schedule doesn’t allow time for make-up lessons,” or when you make them choose from reasonable alternatives.

We teach people how to treat us.

It’s true. We teach people how to treat us by allowing or not allowing certain behaviors.

People learn how to treat you based on what you accept from them.

Allowing make-up lessons without limits/boundaries teaches parents that:

  • We are the ones that will give in (not the soccer coach).
  • Our schedule is always flexible.
  • Our business is the least important of the ones they have chosen.
  • Our appointment times don’t really matter.

Is that really what we want to teach people?

But, make-up lesson boundaries have prerequisites.

Changing how we allow people to treat us can be difficult. Here are four things that need to be prioritized to be successful in changing how you handle and enforce a make-up lesson policy:

  1. We must be convinced that is the best thing for ourselves and the people who depend on us.
    Read this tongue-in-check article to help you understand what really happens to you when you give make-up lessons.
  2. We must be convinced that it is also fair for our families.
    Our yearly tuition covers so much more than the 30 or 45 weekly lesson we have with students. So, parents can be confident that even if their child doesn’t not come to their lesson, their tuition is still working for them. Use this “Where Does My Tuition Go?” brochure to help explain this to families and even remind yourself what all you do!
  3. We must communicate the policy change in a way that shows how it benefits the individual students and the families.
  4. We must stand firm and not be afraid to repeat ourselves.

Just how many parents’ problems can you shoulder?

We cannot help when parents over-schedule their children. But what we can help is how many of those problems we let parents transfer to us. When we shoulder more than our own scheduling issues, we end up with more stress, less time, and way more emotional decisions to make (like whether we give Sally a make-up lesson on Saturday, whether Michael has had too many make-up lessons, whether we really have time on Tuesday for another make-up lesson for Courtney, etc.).

Eliminating make-up lessons is about giving.

But eliminating make-up lessons is about more than just lessening the stress in our lives. It’s about “creating margin” in which we can have time, mental space, and resources to give to others when they need it!

Setting make-up lesson boundaries is really about creating space to give to those in need both in and outside your studio. (Try re-reading that line 3 times out loud, or until you believe it.)

So if you don’t have extra space in your schedule because of make-up lessons, if you don’t have energy to give because you are overworked, and if you don’t have the desire to help others because it seems like others are taking advantage of you, then it’s time to say no to make-up lessons. I have yet to have anyone who has moved to a no make-up lessons policy tell me that they have regretted their decision.

It’s time to say no to interrupting the law of cause and effect.

Creating make-up lesson boundaries means saying yes!

And remember, saying no means that you are saying yes to something else. Saying no to make-up lessons by setting boundaries means saying yes to:

  • Less stress
  • More time with your family
  • Fewer decisions to make
  • Increased time and energy for giving to others
  • Less work for the same amount of money

What’s not to love about those boundaries?

If you’d like a copy of this article to review, highlight, or even burn in protest, just download it here! 🙂

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  1. Karen Lander June 12, 2018 at 9:26 am

    Hi Wendy, Implementing this type of policy in my studio has been wonderful for me and for my student families. I have very good attendance and retention, and there is a very real mutual respect. It just creates a much healthier and rewarding atmosphere for everyone involved in th studio.

  2. Jill Foster June 12, 2018 at 10:36 am

    So true. Thanks for the helpful reminder.

  3. Carole Wieseler June 12, 2018 at 10:43 am

    I do not do makeups. Haven’t for over 25 years. They know it from the beginning. It is part of my studio policy. Might sound like a bit of “tough lady” teacher but it is true that sports comes first to many and they do believe that they can work the schedule for them. Not happening in my studio.

  4. Maryann Messina June 12, 2018 at 10:50 am

    What a wonderful resource you have just provided to all of us, Wendy.
    You hit the mark here!

    Thank you so much!!

  5. Donna Murray June 12, 2018 at 11:08 am

    Setting boundaries in “no makeup lessons” was a step in faith that I had value and it has worked well ! It does get challenged, but face time lessons for a sick child has been quite successful or even simply emailing their lesson plan to give a fresh approach for the next week has also worked well. Thank you for your wisdom sharing this article and your advice in setting boundaries.
    Have a great summer!

  6. Paula June 12, 2018 at 11:08 am

    Thanks Wendy, it especially struck me to read that it sends a message that choosing my business is less important – I run into this with competing activities all the time, usually ones where it is not “home based” seeming to take importance. I am implementing a no makeup policy other than several options that I am in control of. I think it’s fair.

  7. Kelly Parker June 12, 2018 at 11:21 am

    Great article Wendy! <3 "My schedule doesn't allow time for makeup lessons or I don't have room in my schedule." Thank you for giving us that language to use with parents a few years ago. They don't put up a fuss now when I use that line. They don't need to know what I'm busy doing, staying at home and catching up on bookkeeping or actually resting.

  8. Maria June 12, 2018 at 4:39 pm

    Hi all,
    I have always established
    A policy where I give no make up to anyone who cancels without 24 hours notice. I also grant a make up only within my preset schedule of lesons. If I have a cancelation on one of my regular lesson days, or an opening, I will put in a make up if the student has met the criteria.
    I also have created one day that I reserve just for emergency extra lessons(I have audition Tuesday!! Kinds of things) or make ups…but if I have none scheduled I have the night off.
    I don’t advertise this. I just use it as needed for myself and special students.

    Its important to preserve your own schedule (“I don’t teach on weekends”) for your own sanity and family health.

  9. JUDY BLASE June 12, 2018 at 6:38 pm


  10. Sally L Palmer June 13, 2018 at 1:21 pm

    Yay! Great article! I have found the hardest part of the whole “no make-up lessons” policy is changing the mindset of the parents. I instituted a no make-up policy several years ago (thanks to you Wendy) and I STILL have to explain it to parents over and over and over. It’s on my website, it’s in my newsletters. The bottom line is, some parents think they are not getting their “money’s worth” if a lesson is missed. It’s like they never read the “What Does My Tuition Pay For?” information that I have posted. But I’m sticking with it. It’s a great policy. Now, if they would all read the “don’t come to lessons when you’re sick” policy!!!!!

  11. Germaine June 15, 2018 at 9:17 am

    Thanks, Wendy! Great article! I had high hopes for implementing ‘no make-ups’ last Fall, but for a variety of ‘hurricane’-related issues [including a fall resulting in my left hand in a 2-month splint!!!, yes, horrible for a piano teacher], I did not. I’ve paid the price in terms of stress. And this has been the worst year for no-shows — with the added expectation of a make-up for the no-show. That has been my breaking point!!! This is my year! I love the extra ideas for group make-up, email, and facetime lessons. Thanks, all!

  12. Jason June 20, 2018 at 8:19 am

    Hi Wendy,

    I’d love to hear your thoughts about enforcing this policy. I understand the benefits, but I feel like enforcing it puts us in really uncomfortable situations. I had a parent tell me (not ask) that she may not be able to do all of her make-ups over the summer, and that she would just take them in September when the next school year began. Of course, I had to put my foot down and say no, we all know teachers can’t just do that.

    However, as I was having this conversation, I could really feel my heart rate rising, and it kept going up and up as she kept making me repeat myself. Afterward, I was shaking from the adrenaline for at least five minutes. I understand it’s the fight or flight response, but I don’t get what to do about it. I’ve done all the self-talk about needing to respect myself, about how she can find another teacher if she can’t abide by my decisions. I am finally making enough money that I really don’t need her financially, though I really like her daughter.

    I understand the need for a policy that prevents parents from taking advantage of me, but if I’m not enforcing it because doing so puts me in such uncomfortable situations, having the best policy in the world isn’t going to mean much. How do I deal with the mental game of enforcing my policy?

  13. Wendy Stevens June 22, 2018 at 10:57 am

    Hi Jason,

    Thank you for asking about this. You’ve obviously already encountered the kind of situations that demonstrate why it is important to have boundaries about this. You have to protect your time in order that you can remain energetic and excited about teaching ALL of your students and not let those that have overcrowded their lives drain your energy.

    I am the kind of person that also feels my heart rate rising when I have to be firm about things. Some personalities just have a harder time with it than others and I am one of those people. So I fully empathize. I will tell you that 2 things probably happen when you are consistent about this for a length of time:
    1. Your families will eventually get used to it and you will have fewer instances of having to “take a stand.”
    2. It usually gets easier to be firm. Yes, your heart rate may rise when you have to have those conversations, but it will get easier to say no in a kind way when you are more confident that what you are doing is not only good for you but also for all the others that you are teaching and those that are depending on you like family.

    Here are a few things to keep in mind:
    I know this is repeating myself just a bit, but one of the most important things for you to do before you make any policy changes is to be firmly convinced that the changes you are making are the best thing you can do for YOUR life and your family’s life and therefore, they must also be good for everyone because you’ll be a better person with more patience, time, margin, and energy for teaching when you make those decisions. I talk a lot about the “false narratives” of piano teachers in the “Best stress-free Business Practices for Your Studio” workshop which I would encourage you to purchase or review if you already have purchased it. It’s the most important part of that workshop because that’s what enables you to carry out any policy changes with confidence. In addition, I’d encourage you to read these articles (more than once because it takes a long time for us to change our false narratives and give ourselves true narratives that we really believe):
    https://composecreate.com/how-to-enforce-no-make-up-lessons-policy/ (don’t just look at the subject. Look at the philosophy behind it which is explained in the article. It applies to much more than makeup lessons.

    Second, uncomfortable situations do not always mean that you are doing something inappropriate. I’m sure you already know that, but it’s important to remember that often, the right thing or the best thing to do puts us in a situation or conversation that makes us feel uncomfortable. Asking someone for a payment because they are behind and you need to pay bills is uncomfortable, but I’m sure you would agree that it’s the right thing to do. Saying no to your child when he wants to go to a party where you know the parents will be gone will make you uncomfortable (I hate saying no to my children…especially the older ones), but you know it’s what’s best for your child.

    So, in some of these situations, I will NEVER be more comfortable, but it’s still the right thing for me to do. So, the first step I think for you is really becoming convinced that it’s the best thing for you AND all of those that depend on you. Of course, there are always exceptions you can make and please don’t think I’m saying that you must always say no to make-up lessons. I believe there are definitely reasons to say yes. But you can’t make those decisions until you have “margin” in your life in which you have that space.

    I can’t tell you how many teachers have written to me to say that their life is so much better, they have so much less stress, and they are so much more relaxed after adopting a form of some of these policy ideas. But I can tell you that’s it’s been LOTS of teachers that say this and I think you will be one of them too.

    Does that help at all? I know it’s hard, Jason. While it might *look* like I am great and well-practiced at being firm, I struggled with this for a very long time. And I still hate those conversations where I have to be firm. My heart rate may still rise, but I know it’s what’s best for me, my family, and my students and other customers. So that gives me confidence in reinforcing my boundaries in a kind but firm way.

    Do keep me posted on your journey through this. You are right that the battle is in your mind and that’s sometimes the hardest battle to win. It’s a journey and it won’t happen overnight.



  14. Wendy Stevens June 22, 2018 at 11:04 am

    Hi Judy,

    Yes, I am! As a matter of fact, I wrote a few of their rote pieces in Book 1 and 2 of their method. I think that balancing rote and reading in your teaching is very, very important since kids learn to talk waaaaayyyy before they learn to read. It’s the same in piano. They can play much harder things than they can read, so it’s important to allow them to play music that sounds much more advanced if they can play it, even though they can’t read it!
    There are a lot or articles about balancing rote and reading on the ComposeCreate blog. Here are some of them:

    You might also know that I’ve written a number of “Rote and Reading” pieces that are in the ComposeCreate store:

    I hope that helps, Judy! I haven’t used their complete method with students, but I have used the first book and like a lot of aspects about it. No method is perfect, but I’m liking the balance of rote and reading in this one!

  15. Emily L. December 3, 2018 at 3:14 pm

    This is a topic I never stop thinking about! After taking your workshop, I’ve gone through a couple years with a tighter makeup policy. The options I offer are a Facetime from home, a videod lesson, or a parent swap. The videos have been such a hot topic amongst teachers, but I’m finding from my own families they don’t really use those videos I send if they missed. I wish a swap system were easier – it’s not easy. But my viewpoint remains as yours – that the dedicated time is not resellable, and a missed lesson is just a missed opportunity. As long as I didn’t cancel it, I don’t see why I should be the person held responsible for “making up”. I’ve stopped saying “makeup lesson” even! But here I am today, with a person asking for a makeup for a makeup. ha! As Jason said – it’s the enforcing that’s the tricky bit. I’m glad you’re talking about this topic.

  16. Wendy Stevens December 4, 2018 at 9:08 am

    I agree, Emily! Many students might not use videos you send back, so when I used to do it, I would ask if they did. If they didn’t, or I suspected they didn’t, I would just make my comments via email.

    Also I agree on the swap list. It might not be easy…which is why is should be *their* responsibility to arrange it! 🙂

    Since reinforcing is the hard part, you might really like this article, Emily: https://composecreate.com/how-to-enforce-no-make-up-lessons-policy/

    Thanks for commenting!

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