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Baby Matters

I Love to Watch You Play

November 1st, 2016

By Delaine Dew

When I was a little girl, three years old to be exact, my parents enrolled me in ballet class.  After my first plie and sauté, I never turned back and ended up dancing all of the way up until university, where I thought it best to focus my energy on my studies instead of my grand jetes.  I have wonderful memories of countless performances, exhausting but extremely fulfilling studio time, and my junior high years where ballet was all consuming as I attended a specialized ballet school with academics in the morning, and ballet in the afternoons, evenings and weekends.  Thinking back, I did not ever feel pressure from my parents to continue ballet, year after year, nor would I have ever considered my mom to be a stereotypical “dance mom” which might be a reason why I stuck with it for so many years, did not ever resent being placed in ballet, and actually enjoyed it.

Now that I have my own little girl who is now three years old, I just assume that she will enjoy dancing as much as I did, and so far all indicators suggest she is gravitating towards dancing.  She loves watching dancers on stage, dances all over the house and even requested to be enrolled in tap class (a class I wasn’t planning on placing her in until she is older).  She is currently enjoying ballet class, tap class, and acro class and I really can’t get enough of watching her in her little ballet slippers and tap shoes, so proud and happy to be dancing.  It almost brought tears to my eyes seeing her do her first plie in ballet class!

So it really hasn’t sunk in yet that as she gets older than three, or as the months go on, she might decide that she does not actually like dancing and will eventually switch to another sport or art.  I admit that I am kind of scared that I will be disappointed if she decides to quit dancing, and I have to keep reminding myself that no matter what, she is her own person and deserves to have ownership over her decisions.  But honestly, what am I going to do if that day comes when before leaving the house for dance class, all ready in her bodysuit and tights,  she looks up at me with her beautiful brown eyes and says, “mommy, I don’t like dancing”?  

I’m sure I’m not alone here, and many parents are planning to (or have started) enrolling their child in a sport or art that they enjoyed and excelled at as a youngster.  Many proud hockey dads may be hoping their child will dominate in hockey as they did and cannot wait to tape their first hockey stick, perhaps some soccer moms can’t wait to watch their little one on the field and bring those orange slices for team snack, musically inclined parents may have bought that first violin for their child in hopes they will also adore it, and past swimming parents may be just itching to get their child into advanced three-year-old swim lessons and shuttle them off to their first swim meet.  In all cases, we hope our child will pursue substantially the same interests as we did and we are equally eager to get back to those old routines we are most familiar with.

However, there is that possibility your child will not want to participate in the activities you did as a child, and although hard, it will be important to accept this, be supportive of your child, and never let your child feel as though they have let you down in some way.  Although I am not an advocate for quitting and believe that the year or session should be seen through before leaving the activity, there is nothing worse than seeing a child, miserable in a sport and only participating because it’s something YOU want as the parent, and your child is only continuing the activity to avoid disappointing you.  Once your child is no longer having fun, it’s time to hang up the pointe shoes and your dreams of your child pursuing the same sport that you did, as difficult as that might be.

According to my extremely academic (cough cough) google search, it is alarming how high the sports dropout rate is for kids, and even more alarming is that it’s often because the child feels pressured by the parents to succeed at the sport (a sport a parent typically was proficient in), the activity is no longer fun and the child’s motivation has switched to making the parent happy instead of him or herself.  It’s vital for us as parents to ensure that our child has a level of autonomy commensurate with his or her age, to encourage participation by focusing on the fun of the activity and how proud you are of your child for trying, stay out of the way for the most part and don’t become so invested in your child’s sport to the point you are vicariously living through them, and remain uncritical.  Many studies (and those google searches) have suggested that the most powerful words you can say to your child as a sign of encouragement in sports are simply, “I love to watch you play”, which sounds beautiful.  

For us parents who are watching our young child participate in the exact same activity as we did as a child (in my case, even at the exact same ballet school), we need to be extra cautious that we not build up expectations based on our own experiences, ensure that we are focusing on our child having fun rather than technically excelling at the activity, and brace ourselves for the possibility that our child will not want to continue down the same path as we did.  If after giving it a fair chance my daughter eventually decides she does not like dancing and would rather pursue a sport I have no background in, I am going to be supportive and just as proud of her as I always am.  I just might have to have a private cry session of my own (because the last thing I would want is for her to think I am disappointed in her), let go of the ballet and tap shoes and embrace what makes my daughter happy.

Delaine is a mom to a beautiful, active and insightful little girl, and also stays busy as a wife and full-time lawyer in Edmonton. She enjoys running, reading, writing, watching bad TV with her husband and most importantly, being a mom.

Tags: advice, Babies, yeg

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