3 Smart Strategies For Working with Multi-Client Families

3 Smart Strategies For Working with Multi-Client Families

How Siblings Can Bring Great Fun And Great Challenges To Your Business

Go to the profile of Dana Little

Dana Little

Jul 31, 2017

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Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

They look alike, they walk alike, sometimes they even talk alike — and they’re your clients or students for a heck of a lot of time each week, depending on your specific line of work.

We’re talking siblings. You know — those multi-client families who are in your studio, classroom — or let’s just say “turf” — for the better (err…major?) part of the afternoon? Whatever your role is in their lives — teacher, coach or otherwise — you have the distinct role of getting to work with more than one member of a family in the same arena. No big deal? Well, it depends on your definition of “big” and “deal”. (Hint: my mind quickly snatched the word arena out of thin air, so yeah, big deal over here.)

Siblings might be similar in many ways but, the truth is, working with students from the same family can really do a number on us unless we count on them to be different. It doesn’t matter if we’re teaching them to play an instrument or paint a portrait or coaching them on the baseball field, siblings are siblings (…are siblings).

Though it comes as little surprise that no two siblings are exactly the same (even those clever twins I’m teaching right now), I’ve found a few commonalities among my multitude of sibling students. Yes, I said multitude. (Half of my schedule is currently comprised of siblings, so it’s quite the family affair in my studio these days.)

Lately, I’ve been extra tuned in to the subtleties (and the less subtleties!?) of working with siblings, since compared to a one-and-done student, teaching or coaching siblings can be a whole different ballgame. Here are the top three observations I’ve gleaned from these super-related and super-unique students along the way:

#1 Families Come With a Shared Experience

I tend to greet families with something cheery like: “How is everyone?”, and most weeks I get the usual: “Good! You?” That is, until one mom of two replied: “You know, most weeks we’re just fighting and yelling in the car on our way here…!” If I handed out points for honesty, I’d give this mom a solid five points.

The truth is, I loved her candid answer and it’s a good reminder: families are in it together. They come to us having just fought on the drive from school to the studio for the past 10 minutes … or their family pet has been missing since the weekend (or sometimes, of course, they have cheerier family news to share). Getting even a quick family update — some background that might, in fact, affect the foreground of our next lesson — informs us of the mood or morale that siblings walk in with. Ask questions or just be ready to listen, and teach accordingly.

#2 Siblings Need Their Own “Thing”

Whether they like it or not, it’s a safe bet that the siblings we teach have spent a good part of their week together, sharing oodles of space (in the car or messy bedroom), and time (at meals, visiting Grandma, and even screen-time!).

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All this togetherness means a one-on-one session with us may provide a rare, golden opportunity for a student to do their own “thing”, separate from their sibling. This is their time (or it’s, at the very least, their time slot) and it might even be the most one-on-one time they’ve had all week! This makes me want to be all the the more vigilant at every session to notice each student’s unique, stand-out qualities as well as look for cues about a student’s current morale. Here are a couple of recent examples from my studio:

  • An older brother who loves Star Wars songs and his sibling who just wants to write music. Each brother gravitates towards something different in our sessions. So, our back-to-back lessons look vastly different from each other. I love seeing where this enthusiasm takes each student.
  • The older brother who, after his first lesson, was mad that he couldn’t learn a new song — just — like — that (insert finger snap). Thinking I could easily encourage him — just — like — that — I asked: “How many times did it take before you could ride a bike?” His emphatic answer?: “It took my little brother twice — it took me 14 times.” There it was — the clear and present pangs of comparison. Ouch! (And his brother isn’t even a student of mine!) So, at his next lesson, we revisited the previous week’s song — differently this time — he nailed it (high fives ensued), he learned a new song, had some cool light bulb moments, and was beaming by the end. How cool that we get to open the door to new successes each week, with each student. I love getting to say: “See what you can do?!”
  • A younger student asking: “When do I get my second book?”, because her older sister has two books and hers is an all-in-one. This provided me with the perfect chance to remind her we aren’t using the same books, that her book is jam-packed with music, and we moved on to selecting new assignments — just for her.

#3 The Same and Different Approach

Just like siblings have similarities and differences when it comes to personality, strengths and quirks (we can’t all be the “normal” siblings, right?), teaching with a balanced same and different approach has been my favorite approach when working with siblings. Here’s what this could look like:

  • Teaching the same technique with a different focus or angle, as needed. Find out what helps a student relax and take in what we’re working on — is it humor? Helping the student feel less self-conscious? Copying the teacher? A video example of the technique being demonstrated?
  • Teaching from the same books or materials (I love checking with parents for input on this beforehand, because: sibling rivalry!), while still keeping the variety coming for each student, presenting assignments at different times between siblings or in a varied order, always highlighting what each student is working on and towards.
  • Bringing the same enthusiasm to each session to learn what makes a student tick, then setting goals and celebrating successes based on a student’s unique progress.

Our sibling students might be learning the same skills and they might even have fun sharing what they’ve learned with each other, but giving each student a chance to learn in an intentionally unique way… that’s the experience I want to provide for each student — the expressive and reserved siblings, the spotlight-lovers and the quiet, thoughtful creators among our studio families.

Dana Little is a singer-songwriter, imaginative entrepreneur and teacher in Seattle, WA. Her colorful, cozy home studio, The Piano Parlor, points to her serious knack for bringing out the fun and whimsy when working with her music students.

When she’s not teaching, she’s playing piano, singing and writing for indie-folk duo, The Preservation Society.