Dance Dilemma, Part Deux- Advice, PLEASE!

Parenting just got REAL, y’all.

We are experiencing a bit of a dilemma regarding our dance class. After class last week, it became apparent that Hula Girl was getting sick, and if you know my daughter, you know she doesn’t do “sick” well. I was hoping that was responsible for last week’s issues, and that things would be resolved this week, but I was wrong. When we went to dance on Thursday, several things happened.

First, Hula Girl woke up on Thursday morning and exclaimed, “I know what day it is! It’s dance class day!” She.was.thrilled. I was so relieved to see her so excited about it- I thought our day would go smoothly as it has in the past.

Second, when we got in the car, Hula Girl noticed “Tinkerbell” on the ceiling of the car and began talking to her. (“Tinkerbell” visits us frequently- she is the sun’s reflection off of phones, dishes, anything shiny. We feed her pancakes in the morning- Hula Girl is always AMAZED that there are tiny “bites” missing from the pancakes, teehee- and we tell her all about our day whenever she’s around. She really likes our family because she usually flies around at least once daily.) Hula Girl told me Tinkerbell was nervous about dance class. I asked Hula Girl what she thought we might say to encourage Tink to feel more comfortable about attending. She said we could remind her that Miss S. is a very nice teacher and that all her friends will be there. So I told those things to Tinkerbell. Then I asked Hula Girl how she is feeling and she said she was a bit nervous as well. I repeated our comforting messages to her, and she seemed to be fine.

Third, when we arrived at the dance studio, there was another little ballerina waiting to join the class. Uh-oh. Any change in routine is bad news for Hula Girl. She immediately got her very serious face on, the one where she stares at the floor in front of her and bites the left corner of her bottom lip. I brightly welcomed the new dancer and introduced Hula Girl to her. The little girl was absolutely adorable and I told Hula Girl that I hoped they could be good friends after dancing together for a while. Hula Girl blinked.

Fourth, when Miss S. showed up for dance, Hula Girl asked me to pick her up and then laid her head on my shoulder. Double uh-oh. She began to cry and said she wanted to go home.

Fifth, I sat Hula Girl down in the car and told her that I wanted her to think very carefully about what it is that is worrying her about dance. She told me she wanted me to stay in the room with them. I explained to her that mommies and daddies aren’t allowed in the studio with the dancers because the teacher needs ballerinas to pay attention. I reminded her that we’ve seen how the camera works and asked her if she was 100% confident that I would stay right in the chairs with the other mommies. She nodded, but said, “I want you to come in with me.”

Sixth, I laid it out on the line for her: “[Hula Girl], you need to think very hard before you answer. You have a choice to make now. You can quit dance and not come back to class again at all, or you can be very brave and go inside with your friends and do dance class today. Remember, being brave means doing something you are nervous about. What do you want to do?” She chose to go inside.

When we got inside I asked the owner of the studio if we could leave the door open just until Hula Girl gets comfortable in class again. She said that’s fine. Hula Girl would not go into the room with the other girls. I made her stand just inside the door (I stood in the waiting room right outside the door) and I told her that if we are here she needs to be doing the steps just like the other girls. She did a beautiful job.

You guys, she loves to dance. And I love that she loves it so much. And she’s great at it. It broke my heart to hear her say she didn’t want to do dance anymore. BUT.

I really don’t want to push her. I remember times in my life when I felt like people pushed me to do things (not my parents, by the way) that I wasn’t comfortable doing. I was such a people-pleaser that I caved. And hated it. (Example: when I was little, my parents had a convention in Florida and I went but was with a group of older kids who took me to an amusement park. I did not want to go on some ride, but they pushed me to do it. I did it, and was terrified. I still remember it and hate it.) BUT.

She needs to learn to struggle and she needs to learn to socialize a bit. I kind of think it’s appropriate for her, at 3.5 years old, to step outside her boundaries sometimes and get uncomfortable, as long as she knows I’m always there for emotional support. I feel like she’s leaning on me too much but I don’t know how to encourage her without her feeling like I’m forcing her into something (and I especially don’t want to spoil dance for her- I can’t emphasize enough how much she truly loves dance).

Janet Lansbury just linked this post on Facebook this morning. It’s about a mom who fears she’s ruined her child by providing a lot of love and attention. Her child is very uncomfortable in social settings and she’s asking for advice about how to help him out. Janet has some thought-provoking ideas and challenges, including: Stop fearing struggles, Let play be his, Gain a healthier perspective about feelings, and Set boundaries with confidence. I feel like we’re good on the last two, but I know Hula Girl struggles with the first two. She tells me every day, “I don’t want to do room time.” And when I take her outside and tell her to “just play” while I do work, she has a hard time figuring out what to do. She often climbs up on her play structure and calls out, “Look at me,” several times a minute.

So I wrote a comment to Janet on that post which reads,

Janet,

I have a 3.5-year-old daughter who is also very introverted and like the sweet mom in your post I have been very careful to make sure she feels emotionally supported her entire life. We have set very firm boundaries, and she is 100% positive that Mommy and Daddy are in charge. She knows we can handle things. She is very advanced in her language skills and has really never had emotional issues because we’ve worked hard to support her and create a safe place for her to express herself.

However, she gets SO very overwhelmed in social situations. For example, she has been attending ballet class once a week for six months. This and weekly story time at the library are her only consistent peer-interaction situations. She is okay with story time because the moms stay with their children. But in dance, she struggles to stay in the studio with the teacher and the other little girls when I’m not in the room. It’s against the studio’s policy to have parents in the room, and quite frankly, I want to be out of the room so she can focus and learn to dance- she has BEAUTIFUL technique and quite a bit of natural talent.

Recently she began saying she didn’t want to go to dance, and I am trying hard to figure out if this is a situation in which I should encourage her to struggle a bit-she LOVES dance and would be absolutely devastated if I told her we are not going anymore- or be respectful of her stated desires and let her decide to quit. I have strong feelings about these things because I quit everything I ever attempted when I was a child and I don’t want her to give up as easily as I did. I never learned to struggle.

Being mindful of this, I also don’t want to be one of those parents who pushes her to do something she really doesn’t feel comfortable doing. Is a weekly dance class an age-appropriate place to learn to struggle? Or should I assume that she’s able to comprehend enough to allow her the option of quitting?

Full disclosure: my heart broke in ways I didn’t know it could when she told me she wanted to quit. I want to examine my own motives deeply before I make a decision about all this. Any input would be very welcome and very appreciated. Thanks!

I am really hoping Janet responds to me or opens the question up as a discussion question on her Facebook page. I am just at a loss right now and I am really torn about what to do here. This is not for the faint of heart!

What do all of you think?

 

13 Comments

  1. Emily Hendrix said,

    October 4, 2013 at 10:53 am

    My gut reaction is that she is too young to understand the bigger importance of that class time so her quitting doesn’t benefit her in any way. I don’t think you are bullying her into going which she will resent you for. My husband and I also both had the parents who had the rule that it was okay if you wanted to stop doing an activity but you had to at least complete what you signed up for. So if you signed up for baseball, then you were going to play that season and if you want to quit when it’s over,that’s fine. So, if the dance classes are for certain seasons then maybe she could take one off and then maybe she’ll miss it and want to return on her own.

    I would also wonder how much she would benefit from a preschool. Caleb was home with a nanny for years and he never had to learn to share or play with other kids without me or the nanny close by. I think there is a HUGE value to an independent party teaching your children and letting them learn with other kids. Caleb is in the two year old class even though he’ll be three next week and only goes two days a week but he LOVES it. When we first went to his open house and all he clung to me and was too scared to even go into the buidling but he has gained so much confidence and independence from this. He still always wants me to play a game with him or watch him when he plays, but it’s getting better.

    Don’t know if any of that helps…

    • October 4, 2013 at 11:08 am

      I have had those thoughts about preschool too. However, I wonder if it would even be productive to put her through all that since I am going to homeschool her anyway. But I also don’t want to raise a child who is sooooo dependent on Mommy. Of course, I realize she is only 3.5 and therefore is still quite dependent. Oh, the contradictions.

  2. Kristy said,

    October 4, 2013 at 10:58 am

    No, it is not for the faint of heart! You want her development to go perfectly (or optimally) for her and I want the same for my kids. Opinions are going to depend SO MUCH on people’s parenting philosophies, I think. I am thinking that she could quit something at 3.5 and still take it up again later when she is ready to be apart from you in a slightly unpredictable environment and love it and be great at it. If the reaction to the quitting was matter-of-fact and had no hint of judgment or fear or disappointment in it. On the other hand, I totally understand why you are reluctant to start a quitting pattern. Hard choices. For you and for her.

    • October 4, 2013 at 11:06 am

      I do think I definitely had a voice dripping with disappointment when she said she wanted to quit. I think that’s why I’m having such a hard time with it- I am very emotionally tied to this as well. I also worry that if she quits now she might lose interest and not want to do dance in the future. I just don’t know. No one can predict it, obviously, but I just want her to be happy and keep it up. Is that too much to ask!? lol.

      • Kristy said,

        October 4, 2013 at 11:17 am

        Hahaha, yeah, I know what you mean. If we could predict the future, that would be pretty sweet. How much longer is this particular dance class? If it was a season, like Emily said, I would most likely continue to show up with my kid for the rest of the season, regardless of how many times we had to leave or go in the hall or whatever. Then I wouldn’t bring the activity up to him again but wait for him to really want to do it, perhaps even beg to do it. Of course, if I was emotionally invested, I would want him to bring it up and try it again, but I think too much parental encouragement toward one thing can sometimes backfire. You don’t want to go the opposite way and never say what you’re thinking she would be great at or enjoy, either.

      • October 4, 2013 at 1:44 pm

        They have sessions, but the same girls have been in the same class together and the class just kind of moves through the sessions seamlessly… does that make sense? There’s never like a “beginning” class or a “last class of X session” type thing. That said, they are doing a winter parents-come-watch class. I can tell you this: regardless of whether or not she wants to stay in dance, I am NOT going to put her in the recital in the spring. No way am I paying for a costume that will go totally unused!

  3. October 4, 2013 at 11:04 am

    I think it depends so much on the kid and on your parenting style.

    With my oldest child, I would have pushed him. I would have matter-of-factly said “Go on in. I will be back at the end. See ya!” and I would have left the building and let him work his way through. He was rarely shy once he hit 2yo, so he probably would have gotten through quickly and started having fun. This fits well with my parenting style which is, “You like this and you are safe and fine. I’ll be back.”

    With my middle child, she is more like you describe Hula Girl. She is more hesitant and not a risk-taker. And her meltdowns can be pretty epic. She is having some similar struggles right now with going to Sunday School. So I went with her at first, but I did not stay for the whole class. When I wanted to leave, after about 10 minutes, I told her, “I need to go check on your sister. I will be back later. Bye.” and left. She made it about 10 minutes after that. The next week, I stayed for only about 1 minute, then repeat. She stayed for about 30 minutes after that. The teacher is good about learning her style (she is 2, so direct requests are often met with a firm NO! from DD, and the teacher walks her right out when she’s obviously done for the day).

    So looking ahead, if we get to this with my middle kid, I will probably pull her from dance or whatever assuming she is not ready yet. I’d just tell her “that session is over. in the spring, there will be another session.” Then in the spring, try again. I would not discuss last fall’s issues, just sign her up if she said she wanted to, and take her, and then try like above with my son – “Go on in. I will be back at the end. See ya!” and leave.

    Pressuring kids to do something they dont’ want to do is different from stepping away when it’s something they do want to do and your direct support doesn’t seem to be solving the issue. I don’t really worry about them being scarred for life – I will monitor how it goes and just make the decison (to dance or not) based on whether i feel what I’m seeing is evidence that they are ready for this or not. It sounds like in Hula Girl’s case a much smaller class size would be really helpful, but not sure if that’s an option at all.

    • October 4, 2013 at 11:13 am

      Ha, her class has 3-5 other girls, depending on who’s there that day. Nope, can’t get much smaller than that! 🙂

      I am frustrated about it because we had about four months in the middle where I could just walk her to the door, say, “See ya!” and leave. All this stuff has come up recently after returning from vacation and being sick and stuff. So it’s like I know she has it in her, but she’s showing in other areas of her daily life (roomtime, for example), that something else is up.

      She’s probably going through a developmental leap. She sure is sleeping more than she was a few months back. She’s back to sleeping full naps every day and falling asleep within 15 minutes at night.

      Hm.

      Too much to consider. Am I overthinking this?

      • October 4, 2013 at 5:14 pm

        If she was doing fine before and isn’t now, I personally would try maybe taking 1 week off and letting her know that next time she goes, you will leave her there and be back when it’s over. I would try super hard to keep your own emotion away and just do it the way you want it done, and see if she can’t work it out with the teacher. I wonder if she has caught on to how you feel about it and isn’t sure how to navigate that aspect? I guess I’d try a nonchalant approach for a couple weeks, like it used to be, but that is just my style too!

  4. Jeremy Irish said,

    October 5, 2013 at 2:53 pm

    I’m confused–although you mention several times that HG said she wanted to quit, I couldn’t find the part where that actually happened. Can you help me out?

    You need a reserve of inner emotional strength of your own, because it doesn’t do either of you any favors if you are easily swayed by her choices or behaviors. (She’s already starting to notice, and while she may merely find it scary right now, she’ll inevitably learn to exploit it.)

    To put it another way, if this kind of stuff breaks your heart, more serious matters in 10 or 15 years will kill you.

    • October 9, 2013 at 8:43 pm

      Yes, when she said she wanted to quit, I explained to her exactly what that would look like and she then changed her mind. This was good because I was having a mad internal debate over whether or not to make her stick it out- do I lean toward “respectful parenting” and allow her to leave or do I try to teach her accountability? It really took the pressure off of me when she realized exactly what the stakes were and decided she’d like to work through it together.

      The good news is that she’s only three and so I am getting practice in the staying strong category now, when the stakes are low. Thank goodness God doesn’t stick a 13-year-old in the crib, eh?

      Also, you’d be pleased to know that her choices and behaviors don’t really sway my decisions for her and my actions at all. But I do reserve the right to deliberate later and ask advice and opinions from people I trust (and only people I trust have the ability to comment on my blog). I would hate to be the kind of parent who is unwilling to wrestle with the tough things, who just sticks to my own opinions no matter what. It is important for parents to be flexible and observant of their children, and to weigh their observations carefully when making choices about where to go next and how to handle future situations.

      Bottom line: there is never going to be a way to determine exactly how I will handle situations in the future, but my current and past experience definitely helps inform my parenting. It is advisable and wise to use my heart in conjunction with my head when guiding my child through these tough spots in life. And of course a healthy dose of prayer and seeking guidance from wise counsel never hurt anyone.

  5. Janet Lansbury said,

    October 10, 2013 at 2:08 pm

    HI! Oh, gosh, I can’t find your orginal note to me anywhere and don’t even know your name (just poked around your site and couldn’t find it). But just wanted to say that I meant to let you know I could answer you and make it into a post on my blog… but that it would take a couple of weeks. Now I see that your dear daughter has helped you make a good decision…so I don’t imagine you need my input anymore! Sorry! I was very busy preparing for a keynote addresss at a conference and trying to juggle a bunch of things.

    Thanks so much for reading and supporting my blog!!!

    Warmly,

    Janet

    • October 10, 2013 at 2:12 pm

      Janet,

      Thank you for taking the time to comment anyway! I appreciate all your posts and advice. Keep it comin’!


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