There’s nothing like getting excited about enrolling your child in a new activity or class than completing all of the necessary registration steps, only to find that your child is either uninterested or unwilling to participate. No doubt that part of the parenting process is recognizing that your child has preferences and opinions, many of which you try to respect; however, there is a time when parenting involves pushing your child to try something new, be flexible, and adjust to a situation. Being flexible is one of the protective factors that contribute to a child’s resiliency, and it develops out of experience.
The first step is to determine if your child’s resistance is due to a genuine disinterest in the activity or an emotional reaction, whether it’s anxiety or inflexibility. If your child is willing to try the activity then after several times, he complains about attending, or complains about aspects of the activity that he doesn’t enjoy, it is likely disinterest. If your child resists the activity from the onset, clings excessively to you, is reserved about trying the activity, or becomes reserved after trying but finding that it didn’t come naturally (e.g., he missed every shot he took, he struggled to mimic the teacher’s dance moves) then it is likely an emotional reaction. In this case, the goal is to help your child cope with the discomfort and teach him that perseverance has its benefits.
Talk openly with your child about the importance of sticking with this commitment, but let him have some power/control in the discussion. Making a deal with your child is the way to go- explain that you expect him to complete this session, but at the end it will be his choice if he wants to sign up again. (For the younger child, who may not grasp this concept, use a simple behavioral modification technique of giving him a stamp on his hand or making him his favorite lunch afterwards.) Address the reluctance head on: ask about him thoughts and feelings, clarify that you understand how he feels, and then problem-solve. Provide ideas on what he can do to make his experience better (e.g., will it help if he tries to make a friend in the activity or if you practice the skills with him over the week to build his confidence), model positive self-talk (e.g., “I can do it,”), and prompt him to be kind to someone else in the group who also seems unhappy (e.g., empower him to be a leader).
By Dr. Bonnie Zucker, Psy.D
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Read all about Dr. Bonnie: Meet Dr. Bonnie Zucker – Activity Rocket’s Expert Child Psychologist