I don’t believe our child was over-scheduled or over-achieving per se but I would say the past time that we initially chose for her grew to be more than what she wanted. My daughter is 9 years old and loves dance. She is an only child so we chose dance as a social outlet for her outside of school. It turned out she was pretty good. She joined a competitive team at a really amazing school but unbeknownst to us dance was causing more harm than good for our little one.
It didn’t happen right away. As a proud Dad I can say she was killing it on the dance floor. She had a certain something, a spark that just burned brightly on stage. She was always excited to get to dance, which was a few times a week, and to compete. She loved the school and we loved the school. We had the best instructors and the best group of parents anyone can ask for.
Then slowly we started to see a change in our little one. She was becoming more introverted than usual, emotional and even sad and quiet when we were bringing her to the one place she loved the most, dance. We would talk her through it thinking it was just a phase. A certain something in the air perhaps that in time would pass because it’s dance! It’s the one thing she loves the most. It didn’t pass, in fact it got worse. Plenty worse. She would constantly tell us that dance wasn’t causing the problem. “I don’t know what’s wrong” was her constant reply when her anxiety would flare up. She started to have extreme anxiety attacks. They wouldn’t happen every time we were heading to dance but every other time which made us think that perhaps this growing issue isn’t dance specific. Then she started having anxiety attacks over spending the night with grandparents which never used to happen. So many trivial daily things were becoming a chore for her.
We made it through her last year of dance and thought that maybe a good summer vacation out of school and dance would be the perfect remedy for her. Some well deserved chill time with plenty of fun activities on the books. It helped only slightly. My wife and I found ourselves having to talk our child through so many aspects of a day. We were worried and concerned but with her having anxiety about so many varied things we started to believe that dance was not the problem. For this we were happy because we know how much she truly loves it. So we worked as hard as we could to pinpoint the problem.
When July came around Charlie came to us and said the words we thought we would never hear “I don’t want to dance this year.” We were shocked. We asked her why and she said she just wasn’t interested. We took what she had to say in stride. We didn’t want to make any knee jerk reactions because she worked really hard to get where she was in dance. We just told her that we would think about it some more over the summer and she was fine with that. We were afraid that she would decide to move on from dance and regret it a month into the season. So the topic came up at varying points throughout the summer and Charlie was still adamant that she was done with dance, but at the same time she would dance around the house, outside etc. It was all very confusing for us as parents and we were sure it was going to be a mistake.
Finally, one day Charlie made a really good argument about putting dance aside. Her pitch; “I want to be a regular kid and do regular kids stuff at night and on weekends”. At this point we decided to listen to her. We put dance aside for the year. We gave the news to our family, the other dance parents and the school and everyone was shocked. We all were but we had to listen to our child.
The result? The anxiety didn’t go away over night but our child has slowly turned into the girl she once was. She talks to people without prodding. She doesn’t hide in our legs in crowds. She enjoys sleep overs and we no longer have to talk her through her day. The only thing that changed in the scenario was that competitive dance was no longer part of her life. Does she regret leaving? Not at all and we still ask her from time to time. Leaving that environment, for whatever reason, was the best thing ever for our child.
And this isn’t a slight against competitive dance because it is an amazing outlet and an amazing discipline, on so many levels for so many kids. This blog is more of a warning to all parents out there who are currently dealing with children whose demeanour has changed dramatically. The problem may not always be something bad that’s happening to them at school or in their dreams or their mind. Sometimes the problem lies in the very thing they love and they don’t even know it. It’s hard to take on so many levels but it’s the truth. We lived it. Analyze everything and seek help for them if you need to. Charlie didn’t even know that dance was causing a problem. It turned out that the very thing she loved was making every day of her life difficult.