July-August 2005 Selected Content
Beautiful Colors of Change - Tammy Takahashi
A few weeks ago, I met a woman whose daughter had once loved to dance. But one day, she suddenly stopped wanting to go to her dance classes. “There’s a different teacher, I don’t want to go anymore,” insisted the girl. The mom was distressed. The dad began to worry that his daughter was too sheltered, unable to deal with change, and needed more exposure to people. “Perhaps homeschooling isn’t the best idea,” he pondered. “Maybe she needs to go to school so that she can learn the importance of sticking with something and accepting new things.” The mom wasn’t sure and felt the uncomfortable pressure to send her daughter to school. So she asked me what I thought. Her daughter is five years old.
As she was relating her story to me, I reflected on the times I too have been frustrated with my kids when they decided they no longer wanted to participate in their activities after they had begged me to sign them up just weeks earlier. Once I get over my initial impulse to scold my children for asking me to drive 20 minutes to a class they no longer want to go to, I have to take a deep (I mean really deep) breath and try to remember that moments like this are part of the reason we chose to homeschool. We have the flexibility and time to deal with our children changing their minds.
As adults, it is hard to understand how our children can change their minds so suddenly. Our adult interests are more established. We’ve had time to hone in on what we like to do, to test the waters. When we decide we no longer like something, it is often after some reflection and an attempt to stick it out, as well as perspective gained from years of experience in decision-making. Expecting this same reasoning and persistence from our children isn’t realistic. In fact, adults can have the same ebb and flow of interests as children do, yet we don’t receive the same kind of scrutiny. Basically, it’s OK for adults to say, “I made my decision about which interests to pursue and it’s mine to make.” I am learning to extend this allowance to my children as well.
I remember when I tried my hand at scrapbooking. It was fun and a great way to express my creativity in a productive way. My husband was thrilled with my new hobby. I was encouraged by my friends and family to find time to focus on putting my pages together. Then, I had a second baby and scrapbooking no longer fit into the schedule. Once I had enough free time again, I did not choose to go back to scrapbooking. Like my friend’s daughter, I seemed to have lost enthusiasm for an activity I used to love. Once in a while, I receive a friendly inquiry about scrapbooking, wondering if I will return to it someday. I have yet to be criticized for my inability to stick with something, and nobody has questioned whether I have been socialized properly. They trust that I have my own reasons even if I don’t explain them.
When my child changes his mind, there might be an explicit reason such as a negative experience with a student or a new teacher. If fear or frustration is the core reason for his lost enthusiasm for a beloved activity, I should address his concerns. If there is no other reason than “just cuz,” it is still a valid feeling for my child to have, and it does not mean that homeschooling is at fault, or that we are not socializing our child properly. Nor does it indicate that my child has failed.
When a child loses interest “just cuz,” he might be making room in his life for new things he wants to explore, even if the exchange is not an obvious one. For kids everything is brand new. This newness they experience is a hundred times more intense than the newness we feel as adults. It is no surprise if it brings about a sudden interest in that activity, and becomes their favorite. The first time kids experience the joy of dance or karate or soccer, I can only imagine the overwhelming feeling of exhilaration it creates for them. Then, they discover another thing—a sport, a class, an activity they saw their friends doing—and suddenly, their interest for the original activity disappears, and they have a new favorite. It might seem confusing to us as parents: “But, she is so good at dance. She loves it!” or “It’s too bad he gave up soccer, he was the best goalie on the team.” To children, the fact that they are good at something is only part of a reason to continue on. Novelty, curiosity and exploration are also important. They have an innate desire to know more about their world, and to make room for a variety of experiences in their lives.
As adults, we cannot predict what is going to pique our interest tomorrow. Since we don’t even know our own future interests, how can we guess what our children are going to want to do? We can ponder on it, using past behavior as data for imagining what they might lean toward. But an early dislike of pretend play is by no means an indication that they are forever doomed to a life without it. In fact, that same child who started out “never ever” playing pretend, and crying when her friends wanted her to be the mommy in a pretend family, could easily grow up to be a Shakespearean actress. Sometimes the things that we start out absolutely despising—things that make us cringe—can end up being the very interests we eventually find to be the most fascinating and enduring in our lives.
The opposite can be true as well; enthusiasm for a new activity can turn into disenchantment. My son loved his dance class from the moment he did his first step-touch. He was really good at it too: catching the beat and picking up moves on the first try. For two years, he diligently went to class, followed the instructor, impressed the ladies (that would be the moms watching their preschoolers on the side-lines). His teacher told me, “Don’t ever let him stop dancing. He’s amazing and we need more boys in dance.” When she told me this, I made the erroneous assumption: He’ll never stop. It’s who he is.
When Cameron was too old to stay in the pre-K dance class, it was time to move up to the performance classes. The first day of class, I left him there with the teacher, as I had with the previous class. An hour later I returned and the teacher took me aside to say, “He really needs to work on paying attention and listening. He might need some time to mature.” Cameron was a “distraction.” So I decided to stay and watch the next time, two-year-old in tow, to see exactly what the teacher was talking about.
She was right. He couldn’t sit still. The class consisted of twenty-five children (Cameron being the only boy) sitting or standing while the instructor demonstrated how to put together a string of moves. All the girls in the class stood there watching, then each practiced the move when the teacher called her name. Cameron, on the other hand, was a pogo stick with arms. He could not sit still or watch the teacher for more than a minute (which is about how long it took him to figure out the routine). He needed to be moving. The dance class was no longer about moving. It was now about how to dance properly, with moves in a certain sequence. Cameron did not have the words to voice his disinterest, but it was clear by his behavior.
As much as the teacher begged me not to take him out of the class, Cameron did not enjoy the format of the new class. He stopped asking to go. I stopped taking him. About this same time, he began playing soccer and piano. I asked him if he’d like to try another dance class with a different teacher. He said he’d rather play soccer.
I was disappointed. We had spent quite a long time dedicated to the class and had built up a rapport with the teacher. What appeared to be my son’s natural talent increased my inclination to see dancing as an inevitable life-long interest. Looking back, I see I had inadvertently put an expectation on him that if he chooses to start something, he’s in it for the long haul. And when I realized he was really done with dance classes, my initial response was to focus on what he had “given up” or that he had wasted so much time. Really, the only thing lost would be my attachment to the idea of his future as a dance scholarship recipient. From his perspective, nothing was lost. He simply moved on to something new, listening to his natural inner voice.
I ask myself then, what is a parent’s role in guiding our children to find happiness, if it isn’t to encourage them not to give up? Seeing my children turn up their noses at the very things they used to hold dear breaks my heart. Getting the message, “I don’t want to do that anymore,” can fill my mind with worry about lost time and lost potential. But ultimately I believe my children will love to read, study math, go to dance class, and many other things—when the time comes, whether or not I secretly jump for joy when they show an interest in these things.
When I get caught up in wondering what might have been, I remind myself that with every choice we make in our lives, we are also choosing not to do something. I can never really know what our lives would be like if we had made other choices. As much as I like a good adventure into musing the possibilities, we are happier if I focus on the directions that our current paths lead to, rather than on the paths that we chose not to take. My children should not have to feel the weight of trying to live up to my expectations. My motivating force is not theirs. By recognizing that I have my own biases towards learning certain things, I hope to continue to hold loose reins on directing my children’s learning. I have made it my goal, as a parent and homeschooler, to provide a strong foundation of understanding and support for my kids so I can step back and watch them discover their world.
© 2005, Tammy Takahashi