As parents, we want to give our children the opportunity to experience many of the wonderful things life can offer. We flip through pages of booklets for classes, daycamps, preschools and envision our child loving the lessons, camps and activities contained in them. We take time to sign him up, write checks, arrange transportation, and prepare him for the first day.
But when the first day arrives and he doesn’t want to go, what to do now? Should we drag him to the activity kicking and screaming, or give in and let him miss?
It’s the age-old parenting question: should you force your children to go to lessons they hate or let them drop them?
The answer: it depends.
It depends on your child and your goals for the activity. Does your child usually complain until he gets there and then loves it? Or does your child complain loudly the whole time he is there and all the way home? Did you sign up your child to acquire skills, socialize a bit more, or for a little down time for you?
Take the “Nudge, but don’t force” approach. Encourage him to go the first day and try it out. One day, that’s it. It’s about giving the child informed consent. He needs to experience what he is going to make a decision about and if he goes the first day and hates it, then let him drop the activity.
Most lesson programs will give you the majority of your fees back if you drop immediately after the first day. If he loves it, then he will be glad you nudged him. If you can’t get a refund, don’t worry about wasting the money. It’s better to build trust with your child that if he tries new things, you won’t force him to attend the whole way through in the name of “committing to the agenda.”
Think about it like this: many adults get second chances and can drop out of things they don’t like. As children get older, you can teach the importance of commitment with chores, friends and homework rather than with activities. If you force them to attend the activity the whole course, you risk teaching them to hate the very activity you were hoping they would love.
If it’s skills, socialization or time to yourself that is the goal, is there another way to achieve it? Is it the right time to work on that now? If you have a quiet, shy or anxious child, promise to stay with him and leave in baby steps according to his comfort level. Ignore complaints from staff who will no doubt recite their “No Parents Allowed” policy – you know your child best and need to act in his best interests.
Research supports a gradual leaving of your child and building trust in your relationship that you will fulfill your promises of staying until he no longer needs you. Child program professionals should understand that the importance of your child’s comfort level and it should supercede any perceived concerns that “it will show favoritism to one child” if their parents are allowed to stay.
If the venue or staff will not let you stay, consider a more parent-friendly program or venue and ask yourself if your child is really ready. Sometimes a few months or weeks of further emotional or social development is all your child needs to push his independence further.
Judy Arnall is an international Parenting Speaker, mom of 5, and author of the best-selling, “Discipline Without Distress: 135 tools for raising caring, responsible children without time-out, spanking, punishment or bribery” www.professionalparenting.ca