Child Caring

Mom, you're taking first-grade way too seriously

Hi Barbara. I love your level headed approach to your parenting advice. I wonder what you can tell me about this: my first grade daughter just doesn't seem comfortable trying her best. Her teacher says she puts in a very focused effort in school, and she learns a lot and does very well, so I can only assume this is true. However, at home, everything seems to be just a rush. To finish her homework quickly, without paying much attention. It isn't really a school issue, so I really don't worry much about this. But, then there are the activities. She has a dance recital coming up and she loves dance, has for years, but she is always the one watching the other girls to see what they are doing. I have to actually tell her to look at practices like a recital in order to see her really try. (this is only very recent, trust me I don't harp on these things). Similar in gymnastics. She loves it, but it's expensive. She's also nervous about a lot of it. Her coach says she can do everything with a spot, but always nervous on her own. It reminds me of me learning to ride a bike and insisting someone had to hold the bike. I don't know if this is a fear thing or a control issue or just about putting in any effort. I tell her she doesn't have to be the best, but she should try her best. I don't want to give up on these things she loves, but it seems like a waste sometimes to pay money to let her just run around and be silly. Is it just me?

From: Confused Mama, NorthShore, MA

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Hi Confused Mama,

Honestly? You're taking her childhood way too seriously. When else in life is she going to have a chance to "run around and be silly"? And how much time do you expect a 6-year-old to put into homework, anyway?

For homework, I'd say anything more than 10 minutes is inappropriate in first or second grade and I'd say the purpose of homework in first grade is not to accomplish real work or reinforce learning but to get kids -- and parents -- used to the idea of having a place and time to do homework, to establish homework as having priority in the family routine. What's more, it sounds like the teacher is happy with your daughter's progress. BTW, have you asked the teacher what she expects from homework, both in terms of what gets accomplished and the time it takes?

The point of extra-curricular activities is to try out different things and see what you like. I'm in the "less is more" camp, especially for young children under 9. I know that's not the trend, in fact, one study shows that more can be better. But there are caveats to the study -- young age is a factor; so is a child's interest level. You've already noticed that she's loving one activity and "nervous" about the other. Yep, I'm going out on a limb here and guessing she doesn't love gymnastics as much as you think. Part of this might be developmental: maybe she's looking around at the other kids and thinking to herself, "That looks scary," or, "I don't want to do that." Just as likely: she doesn't want to disappoint you (no young child wants to disappoint mom or dad) so she's not going to admit she doesn't really want to do gymnastics. In another year or two, she might feel physically stronger or braver. Let her off the hook, and try gymnastics again then. But let her off the hook in a graceful way, not, "This is expensive, it's not worth it," but: "You know what? Let's try gymnastics when you're a little bit older. If you want to. You can decide."

To quote from Nancy Carlsson-Paige in her book, "Taking Back Childhood," we've become an achievement-obsessed society that can sometimes interfere with a child's healthy development. I'm not saying you're there, Confused Mama, just want you to be aware.