My son is 5 1/2 years old. For his entire life he has been painfully self-aware and unable to join activities right from the start. He has voiced being nervous (his word) of doing things wrong, not knowing the other kids, having someone laugh at him. About 50% of the time he will eventually join but not without complete involvement from me or his dad (encouraging him, giving an ultimatum, begging).
Once he joins, he is perfectly fine and in fact goes on and on about what a great time he is having. His developmental skills are average to above average for his age....I don't believe it is a situation of fearing physical harm, not knowing rules or questioning his skill. I spoke with his pre-school teacher last year to understand if she saw the same things but she told me he is the leader in the class and the first to volunteer for things. I can't figure out the best approach to get over this.
Right now he is signed up for town soccer. ...On the first day, he cried and begged me to "sign out of soccer". I convinced him to go to the field, meet the coach, and see what happens. He stayed on the sidelines the whole time. By the way, he was the only kid out of about 50 who did this. The coach was terrific. No pressure but would check in from time to time to see if he wanted to join the rest of the kids. By the end of the session, my son had his uniform on, was so excited and told me that next week he will be able to do it. Later that day, I asked if he was still nervous about soccer and he told me, "No, it is all over." Well, 2 days before the next session, he again asks to "sign out of soccer," he can't do it.
I want this to be fun. I want him to meet new kids in our town and make friends. He said he wanted to sign up, we paid money for him to participate. I am trying to balance my need to teach a lesson about commitment against his fears. I am really struggling because once he gets on the field he always has a great time. My feeling now is to walk away from this and try again in the spring when he knows more of the kids.
What is the best way to handle this?
From: Me, Hingham
First of all, as I wrote only three days ago, some kids are slow to warm up. He sounds like he fits this category perfectly.
Secondly, he is too young to learn any "lessons about commitment" from this. You said you want this to be fun and it should be. Would I let him "sign out"? You betcha. And not in a punitive way, either. The whole point of these activities is to be able to try out a bunch of them and see which ones you really like. That means some things don't get repeated and, yes, some even get dropped. I would tell him simply, "If you want to stop soccer, that's OK. You can try it again some other time."
But the next time he wants to sign up for something -- anything -- I would remind him of his previous experiences, and not just the part where "you always have fun once you ..." Remind him of what happens first: "You know how last time you wanted to sign up for soccer and then you wanted to sign out of it? Can you tell me why you changed your mind?" "Why do you think it will be different this time?" And if there is a time when he stayed with it, "What made it OK that time? Was it the sport? The kids? The coach? Was it that once you tried it, you saw you could be good? Was it that you practiced at home with dad first?" (Don't offer all those choices at once; that would be over-whelming.)
What you want to do is help him to label and identify the feelings he has, and then label and identify and replicate the coping mechanisms that worked for him. This is a process. It will take time and patience but -- I speak from experience -- it will pay off.
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