It’s true of almost all human endeavors; we work hardest to succeed at, and we are most apt to stick with, the things we love. One of the most important things parents can do to help their children develop a love of dance is to choose the right type and variety of dance training for each child’s ability, personality, and temperament. Obviously, the older the child, the easier it is to discover how engaged he or she is, and to discuss their feelings and preferences. Sometimes, kids will be resistant to dance training at first, simply because they don’t know what to expect, or because their friends are involved in something different. One effective way to work with your child in that situation is a contract. The child agrees to give dance a fair chance and genuine effort for a specific time period – possibly one semester or one school year – and the parent agrees that if the child doesn’t want to continue at the end of that time, the parents will let it go.
For kids too young to communicate effectively about their opinions and feelings, and for kids “on contract,” parents can help boost their kids’ chances of success by observing, questioning, encouraging, and adjusting.
- Observe Your Child – After a few classes, start evaluating your child’s behavior outside of class: Is she excitedly packing her dance bag the night before class? Is he showing friends and family the cool, new things he’s learning? Is there excited chatter in the car on the way home from class? Congratulations, your kid is loving dance! Are you having to coax, cajole, or drag your child to get ready for class and to practice in between class days? Is the ride home suspiciously silent? You probably need to help that child out a little!
- Observe Classes – Watch how your child interacts with the teacher and with classmates. Does your child respond positively to the teacher? Is he or she bonding with classmates and being part of the class or hanging around on the fringe? Are there other students trying to “boss” your child? Is your child trying to boss other students? A good teacher will put a quick halt to that kind of behavior, but if you see it going unchecked and directed toward your child, discuss it with the teacher. If your child is the one doing it, explain that only the teacher should be correcting or critiquing students.
- Question – How you go about asking questions depends on your child’s age, self-awareness, and communication skills. Use your observations to start asking questions without suggesting excuses, especially with younger or less communicative kids, who are likely to latch onto a suggested excuse rather than work through the real issue. Keep the questions casual and just one or two at a time; if you start rapid-firing questions, you’re less likely to get genuine answers.
- Encourage – Use your observations to encourage your child specifically – for example, “Wow, that was a great correction you made after Mrs. Smith asked you to change your hands!” – in addition to offering general encouragement like, “That was a tough class. I’m so proud of you for working hard and doing such a great job!” Being a beginner is tough, and no one likes the feeling of being not-very-good at something. Let your child know this is how everyone feels when they try something new. You might be surprised how big a difference such simple affirmations can make in your child’s attitude. “This is what you can do today. Keep trying, and tomorrow, you’ll be able to do even more!”
Speaking of practice, you can help them discover ways to make practice more fun, too. Do it with them, ask them to show you how to do it, be silly and do it wrong on purpose, so they’ll have to keep showing you how to do it. Explaining something they are learning will help them to break down the moves and cement the concepts in their minds, and the repetition will help build muscle memory.
- Adjust The Dance Training – Watch, listen, and read between the lines when needed; no one knows your child as well as you do. If you feel your child isn’t responding well to a certain teacher’s style, try a different class. There are a lot of situations that can be easily adjusted without giving up. Maybe your child is super tired after class. Does he have P.E. at school on class day? Change class days. Maybe you learn that your child needs a little better fitness in order to keep up. See if there is a little less intense dance class available. If not, discuss it with the teacher, then re-assure your child that it’s ok to do as much as he or she can, and take a little breaks as needed. Maybe you’ll find that your child needs a less structured class or a different form of dance. The most important thing to remember is that you and your child need to give enough time to each new thing or setting, before deciding to move along and try something else.
Benefits For Childhood And Beyond
Dance training helps kids to focus and develop self-discipline, not only in dance, but also in all aspects of their lives. It can help with literacy and attention issues, in addition to more obvious health benefits like flexibility, cardiovascular health, and joint health. Dance reduces stress and gives a heightened sense of self-awareness and self-confidence. Making the effort now to help your child fall in love with dance can give them life-long benefits.