Friday, May 2, 2014

No Pushing or Shoving: knowing when to back off your kids

When do you let them fail? When do you rescue them from certain doom?  When do you encourage them to do something to which they have committed? When do you just let go and let them drop out?

Last summer our Gracie (4) wanted to take dance classes. I had aligned all the fun stuff at the rec. center and the dance class was on a different day from the 'cartooning' and 'science and art' that the boys were doing.  But she wanted to take dance and the price was right, and it wasn't too far. So I signed her up for the 8 week, 1x a week, 30 minute intro to ballet.  She had her pink leotard and we borrowed ballet slippers.  We were ready.

And after the first class she was really disappointed.  They didn't get to dance.

"Mom - all we did was walk around the room with our arms up"

She thought it was ridiculous but decided it HAD to get better.  But it didn't.  The next class was just the same.  For part of the class they didn't even get to walk around. They just stood there and kicked their legs out.  By the 3rd class she was crying she didn't want to go but tearfully left my side.  I couldn't get her to go into the 4th class without me.

So there I am with kids aged 18 mo, 7 and 10 in the little hall outside and a crying child inside.  I wondered WHY on earth I would want to keep torturing her (and the rest of us) for the next 4 weeks.  Sure I had paid the money but I wasn't getting the money back either way.  I think I probably would have paid double NOT to have to go back to the class.  If you think I am being dramatic let me remind you that this is a SUMMER class.  For folks outside of the metro Phoenix area - the temperatures are in the 120's in the summer here.  So going outside the house is a little like traveling around town in minnesota in January.  It is miserable. The heat is dangerous.  The car will burn you, your seat belts will burn you.   If you HAVE to go somewhere you usually go in the AM as early as possible when it is in the low 100's. This class was midday.   I told the teacher that Ella wasn't going to be returning but thank you.  And we went home to swim.

I was reminded of this experience yesterday watching a 3 year-old sulk during a gymnastics class.  His mom said 'he is clearly having fun but he says he doesn't want to come'.  And we started talking about how we should make those decisions.

Coincidentally, Gracie told me yesterday she didn't want to do the speaking part in her class play so I had that running in the back of my mind as well.

As a parent when do you make them keep their commitment to an activity?

And I think the answer is of course age, child, and situationally dependent.  The 3 year old gymnast is clearly having fun.  Encourage him to keep it up.  The 4 year old crying her way through the class may NEVER DANCE AGAIN if you make her keep it up.

So the first consideration should be...

Do they really mean what they say?  When they say they don't like it - watch them.  Do they mean "I would rather be at home watching TV" or "I am worried I am missing out on fun with sister", or are they unengaged in the task.  So discover just how miserable they REALLY are and watch to see if it gets better or worse as the time goes on.

Secondly, realize that a preschooler is not really 'aware' of commitments in the same way that a 14 year old is.  You can't have the same rules for all the children.  Letting a 4 year old drop out of a class is not "teaching" them to fall down on commitments.

Third, the activity matters.  If their dropping out means that their whole team will suffer then that needs to be taken into consideration.  Dropping off a soccer team that has just enough players is different than taking a break from violin lessons for a while.

Fourth, try not to set up a pattern of 'failing'.  If one of your children has a tendency to not follow through encourage them more and give praise when you see s/he is holding to commitments.  Don't sign them up for things unless you are both sure it is going to be a good fit.

Gracie and I found a much better fit for her in gymnastics.  She gets to move around and tumble and twirl and jump.  She may not do it forever but she is loving it now. It is so much nicer for everyone involved!  As for the play, her awesome teacher worked with her and Gracie has a clear case of stage freight.  She knows her lines but she just isn't ready for the big stage.  And that is okay.  She is only 5 years old.   Why bring her to tears daily so that she can put on a costume and recite a line in front of a few hundred people - assuming she doesn't freeze up? So another classmate gets to play the role of St. Rose, and Gracie gets to … guess what… become one of the dancers … and she is thrilled!

In our days of helicopter or free-range parenting, our decisions to push or step back really should be guided by careful thought.  So think about your child, run yourself through those questions, and then make a decision together.

Thanks for stopping by!

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