Last week, a mother asked whether she should insist that her son take lessons to improve his skills.
"Our seven-year-old loves to show us his 'moves,' " she wrote. "Whether they are gymnastics, dance or karate, he has a natural ability and showmanship. We think he could do well in lessons, but he refuses on the basis that he is already a 'master of all the moves.' Should we let this ride or steer him into programs in the hopes that he will broaden his horizons and potential? Part of the issue is that he feels he needs to control the risks he takes at every level."
Here's what our parent educators had to say:
This is a question I get fairly often at school. It could be due to a couple of things.
One is that your child might feel that after a full day in school, he has had enough structure and simply wants to make his own fun, rather than taking a class.
For many kids, getting outside to play in an unstructured way after school is very valuable and should be encouraged. Limiting screen time and providing play opportunities are always a great idea. In this case, the solution is simple: leave things for now and as he grows, he may show an interest in formalizing his interests into a class or activity.
Here's the other possibility: When a child enjoys something, we often praise him to get him interested in doing it again and all of a sudden, he does not want to try any more.
This is often the product of praise. We want to encourage our children and let them know that they are amazing, but sadly, praise is one of the fastest ways to inhibit a child's natural interest and curiosity.
Here is an example: A parent of a preschool child saw that her child had drawn an incredibly accurate picture of a bear. The child had been happily drawing, oblivious to everything around her.
She showed the picture to her mum and since it was the first thing she had drawn that was easily recognizable, her mum told her what a great job she had done.
Later, Mum asked her if she would draw another one and she quickly sat down to begin to draw. And at that moment, she became stuck. She started a number of times, but quickly scrunched up her attempts.
She was trying really hard to duplicate what she had done before, but it just didn't work. Eventually, she just gave up and went to play with something else. It was clear she now felt she must perform well to earn praise, rather than simply draw for the love of it.
We often see this at school. As children grow older, if working for praise is a part of their life, it becomes much, much harder to try something new that they may fail at.
At this point, the child will do exactly what is asked and no more, for fear of being wrong. Risk-taking disappears.
When children are not praised routinely, they are more inclined to explore, learn and participate for the love of learning, rather than for external validation.
When I see a student working away at something, I will often ask them how it feels for them to accomplish the task.
Most often, I will see their eyes light up as they tell me all about their project or accomplishment. I then comment that it sounds like they are having a lot of fun doing that and they readily agree.
It's clear that it's not about what I think, but about how they feel about what they have done. Similarly, when a child takes a risk and it does not go well, as teachers and parents we need to focus on their feelings and let them know that trying something is much more important than the result.
That way, children want to learn for the intrinsic reward of their own feelings of accomplishment and self-satisfaction.
Jean Bigelow Parent Educator School Principal
I completely support the idea of a child gaining more skills from a class, especially if he is interested in doing so. I do, however, have some gripes about structured activities.
When reading this question, I immediately thought of Silken Laumann's book Child's Play. "Casual, unstructured playing was how most of our bodies became strong and healthy and how many of us developed a lifelong appreciation of exercise," she writes. "Most Olympic athletes I know, myself included, gained their foundation in a casual and unstructured way."
While some structured activities are beneficial, I object to organizations insisting that families commit to year-long (or 10month) programs. Children should be able to try lots of different activities with short commitments that are easily kept.
We quickly turn to the experts and classes for skills children could enjoy naturally, such as sports, dance or music. Parents end up driving too much during precious family time and children are expected to do certain activities on schedule.
What they love becomes a chore. The parent soon resents the overuse of family resources - money and time - and many power struggles ensue over paid lessons. Can we trust ourselves to help our children learn without having to run to an expert?
Can we find balance so that kids get to play, unplugged?
Being bored is the beginning of getting creative, yet our kids don't get much of a chance at that today. Family fun, sharing music and neighbourhood kickarounds provide opportunities for connection, creativity and a sense of belonging. The entire family playing together develops skills as well as selfesteem.
As for your son, he is feeling apprehensive because he is protecting himself. This is his nature and one that has to be nurtured. At the same time, you are trying to find ways to help him step outside his comfort zone.
You can do this both by acknowledging his need for certainty and by helping him see how capable he is of judging his risks. Remind him of times that he has succeeded at this.
If he doesn't want to take lessons now, don't push it - honing his skills at home is valuable. With a little encouragement, when the time is right, he may decide he wants more. Let him take the lead and he will most likely keep his passion.
Allison Rees Parent Educator
Next week's question:
We have a six-year-old son who has difficulty playing in groups on the playground. If he is playing with a friend and another joins them, he will sit down and pout or come to me and say that his friend no longer wants to play with him. That's clearly not the case - in fact, friends will often come over and ask why he is no longer playing with them.
He rarely asks his friends to play with him if he sees them on the playground, nor will he join a group of his friends without an invitation. If he does join them and they run off to play in a different area, he does not follow. He just gets upset, assuming they no longer want to play with him. I have explained to him that some of his friends prefer to play in groups, rather than oneonone like he does. How can we help him get over his fear of rejection?
Do you have any advice for this parent? Are you struggling with a parenting dilemma? Send your input to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please put "the parent rap" in the subject line. Questions about kids from infants to teens welcome.
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