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Your Child’s First Class. . . Will You Survive It?

Date:  Aug 01-2006

We are in the business of providing sports lessons for children. About 1/3 of our students are toddlers. Most of our little clients burst in the door, ready for class. But, let’s face it, anytime you’re working with kids, things don’t always turn out as planned. We’ve seen it before. Mom signs little Meg up for swimming, buys her a new suit and towel, gets her hair tied up just right. Meg tells everyone that she’s gong to swimming. She sings out the car window on the way over. Then when class starts and her name is called, Meg won’t let go of Mom’s leg. She pouts, she cries. Now what?
            We encourage parents to ride it out. Relax. An experienced teacher will gently offer support. S/He will give you time and space. Whatever you do, do not go home.
             Coming to a swimming class or gymnastics or dance is often one of the first experiences toddlers have in adapting to a structured environment. This is a big step for them. There’s a lot more going on in these lessons besides blowing bubbles and putting their faces in the water. Kids learn life lessons, such as, “I’ll wait my turn,” “I’ll hold my head high,” and “I’ll try again; I know I can do it.” The training is important, but the lessons in life are priceless.
            Some kids simply need more time than others to adjust to new situations. Observation is a form of participation. Parents don’t want to enroll their kids in a class where all they do is sit and watch, so it is important to understand that the child is getting much more than athletics.
            When your child refuses to participate, make arrangements to sit off to the side with your child and gently offer support. Point out the various activities the class is enjoying. Let your child watch. Avoid challenging comments, like, “I bet you can’t do that!” and competitive comments like “I bet you would be the best one out there.” Often the child’s reluctance stems from a fear that she won’t be able to do the activities and that everyone else will be better. Just focus on how much fun it is. Steady encouragement will eventually lead to participation and that participation is an important step to learning that she CAN win over her fears. The child who is swept away after 10 minutes of crying is denied the chance to win the situation.
            As you help your child through this new situation, remember that the parents sitting around you are parents, too. We’ve been upset when our child did not gleefully run out to greet her new coach. We’ve wondered if we were trying to make her do something she was not ready for. We know what it feels like when everyone smiles kindly while your child screams her head off. We’ve whispered bribes (serious bribes) in pouty little ears. It’s OKAY!
            Ride it out. Give her time. Be patient. Observe. Come back next week. And the next. Help her to win the situation. Two years from now when she can do back floating and she knows all the words to every song (and so do you) or she can swim the length of the pool, you will know that one of the most important lessons she learned took place those first difficult weeks of that toddler class when she learned that she was brave and strong; that Mom and Dad will stand by her; and that she can win the situation!

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