When I was two years old my mother put me in dance classes because my older cousin was taking lessons. I loved it, so my mom never looked back. She signed me up every single session until I could decide for myself, at which point I would beg her to take more and more classes and hand her paycheck to the front desk until I was practically living at the studio.
Today’s preschool parents are different than they were 40 years ago. When I was a little girl, there were pretty much three choices for tiny human activities- dance, swimming, and soccer. My mom picked one, and she was so happy I liked it, because that set the stage (pun intended) for what I would do to burn off energy for years to come. Dance it is! Check. When I was old enough, I was offered a job at my studio, and I earned money and danced all through high school living my best life while instead my friends used a long claw thingy to pick up trash at Water World in the summers. My dance friends were mostly separate from my school friends, and that proved to be a great thing for me through adolescence. I spent a lot of time with my dance teacher, and she guided and loved me like a second mom. If it takes a village to raise a child, then my dance studio was on its main street.
Today there is a menu of toddler activity options so extensive that a parent is made to feel like a failure if they don’t sign their babies up for a different extracurricular each day of the week. Being a good parent does not mean you must spend all your time ferrying your children from basketball to dance to French class to guitar and back again. In fact, many parents are starting to revolt against over-scheduling their kids, and we say Bravo! However, these same parents are choosing ONE activity at a time, and then switching them up every several weeks. The trend we see now is that parents don’t sign their kids up for the same thing over and over anymore like my mom did. They sign up for a session or a season and then immediately try something new, so the child can “discover themself” and decide what their passion is.
Call me old-fashioned, or just biased towards dancing and keeping my business full of repeat customers, but I see several flaws with this model. For one, we are kind of teaching our kids not to stick anything out. They aren’t really afforded the opportunity to face any adversity and overcome it, because there isn’t the time when participation in everything is just introductory. Also, when we hop from activity to activity, we are creating a short attention span for our kids. We are training them to get bored easier because they are always ready for the “next thing.” Additionally, we are robbing ourselves of community. We don’t give our kids (or us!) a chance to put down any roots to make enduring friendships, nor do we give the instructors/coaches enough time to mentor or make a lasting impact. In a world where we are constantly distracted and influenced by FOMO (fear of missing out) to consume more, try everything, and look perfect doing it all (thanks, Instagram and Pinterest), it’s positively countercultural to hang in there and grind for a bit. All we’re saying is, trust the process y-know?
So when is a good time to switch up activities? First, give it at least six weeks before you allow your child to decide it’s not for them. It can easily take that long for a kiddo to feel confident they know the class expectations and procedures, and make connections with the other people in the room. Also most big things start small, so your child might think the activity is slow at first. Give them a chance to get to know the class content and make a friend or two before deciding to pull out. However, we say all bets are off when the environment is toxic or your child HATES the activity. If you have any reservations about the safety of your child, whether physical or psychological, or you feel like the community opposes your family’s values, is negative and/or unwelcoming, then yeah- pull your child faster than you can say buh-bye! Likewise, if your life is made miserable every single week because your child throws a fit against going, then the timing isn’t right either in their life, or maybe just in their day. Coaches want your kids to love their activities above all else, so if that’s not happening for your child, then absolutely yes, you should explore until you find something that makes their heart sing. Avoid making your life miserable with all the coaxing, bribing and wrangling it takes to make an angry kid do what you want them to do.
Sports usually operate in seasons, but arts (music, dance, martial arts) are more of a practice. Getting good at either requires an investment of time and money. Most people are fine with the money- much more so than they were when I started dancing- but it’s the time investment where parents seem most restless these days. Our studio will always stay friendly to kids who want to come in and out of dance so they can play sports and do other activities. We’re not saying that’s not okay, however I want to encourage parents out there who are pulling their kids just because they think they should try the next new thing- kick back and stay awhile. Let your kids make friends, connect with their teacher and experience the magic and growth of performing in a few shows. Our advice is not new; if it ain’t broke, maybe don’t try to fix it so soon!