When Emry was five years old, I signed her for soccer through our local rec center. She absolutely hated it, she was too scared to let go of me and the coach wouldn’t let me stay with her for the practice so that was the end of that. Brand new soccer shoes and a cute little Adidas outfit went to waste. I remember feeling angry that she wouldn’t just enjoy learning a new skill, and angry that the coach wasn’t more understanding of my anxious child and to this day I’m ashamed of how I felt. I learned a valuable lesson, pushing my child to do something she doesn’t want to do is not in anyone’s best interest. I learned to follow her lead.
We tried t-ball the following year, she hated it and never played again. Much to her disdain, I did make her finish the season because I think that follow through it important. She asked to try soccer again in 2nd grade and ended up playing for 4 more years until we had an less-than-awesome experience with a coach who was too competitive for a rec league. I was happy she was willing to try soccer again, but all along I knew she didn’t really love the sport and I was okay with it when she didn’t want to sign up for the following season.
We asked her if she wanted to try gymnastics, piano lessons, running club, photography club, etc – all of which were a firm no. I had to get honest with myself – why was a pushing so hard for her to try new things? Because I firmly believe that if a child has a skill or an activity that they excel at, then it can do wonders for their self esteem. A child who learns or even teaches themselves a new skill opens windows of opportunity to themselves that they didn’t even know existed. Emry does have skills that she excels at in school and loves reading, but learning something new outside of what is required in school is incredibly beneficial.
Some children naturally want to try new things, my child was not one of those. She is introverted and was anxious for many years. Thankfully we have a handle on her anxiety, she is a very different child than those younger years. I had to find a fine balance between pushing her too hard but also making sure that she knew opportunities were available to her if she so chose to take advantage of them. After our first failed experience with soccer, I can honestly say that I never again pushed her into anything that she didn’t want to do.
A couple of years ago, I found that there was a local horseback riding instructor who had openings for lessons. I asked Emry if she wanted to try it and she immediately said YES. She has had weekly lessons every since.
I finally have my proof that waiting for Emry to love something paid off in spades. I love watching her confidence as she maneuvers a horse, I’ve watched her fall off and try again, I love hearing all about what she learns at every lesson, I love it because she loves it. She is proud of herself, I have watched her self-confidence sky rocket – more than any therapy session ever did for her. Last year she joined the school choir, performed a solo at a singing competition and just recently she was wiling to try vocal lessons. I attribute this 100% to the fact that she realized she could learn and become good at a new skill.
Parenting is full of such fine lines. Of course you want your little ones to grow up to be a successful adult, it would be silly of me not to admit that. Through my parenting style, my kids know that a certain level of responsibility is expected of them. Though one thing I know is that I will never push my children to be over achievers, but I will gently push them to find what they love in life – what gives them purpose and drive. It’s very possible that Emry may have never found anything outside of school and home that fulfilled her – and I would have been totally fine with that. My biggest lesson learned is that it’s so important to know your child before just assuming that they should fit into a box and be like every other one out there.