My cousins and I were laughing about a photo of us when we were kids: our parents had us act out the nativity scene for Christmas, complete with costumes and a baby doll wrapped in a blanket. And while I’m sure I didn’t mind playing the part of a shepherd, I hesitate to think that we actually enjoyed the show as much as our parents—in that photo, all but one of us looked miserable.
It didn’t stop there; for another Christmas, our parents dressed us up in over-sized, gift-wrapped boxes, and probably made us sing a jingle or two. And well into middle school, many of us were still singing at family parties or—I’m ashamed to admit—choreographing hip-hop routines to dance at weddings.
I told my cousins, “We need to do this to our kids. It’s our turn.”
I was kidding. In fact, I do my best not to push my toddler to perform. But sometimes I still shine the limelight on him, and I’m not talking about dressing him up as a shepherd. A few days ago, I was with a friend when I asked my toddler, “Do you want to sing one of the songs you know?” He didn’t respond, so I started it off for him, “Twinkle twinkle little star…” Still, no interest. In that moment I realized I was showing him off; I wanted my friend to see all the cool tricks and talents he can no do. And while it’s natural to feel proud, I knew I shouldn’t have displayed him like a novelty. Thankfully I caught myself and pressed no further.
We often want our kids to perform for various reasons, whether it’s to highlight their talents, brighten other people’s feelings, or encourage kids to continue their talents. If kids are willing to put on a show or even initiate their own performances, then by all means, raise the curtains and take a seat. And for some temperaments, showmanship comes naturally—one of my nephews is a natural performer and thrives with attention. He’s not one to deny a request to perform.
My toddler usually performs when requested—get him started with his Foot Loose dance and he’ll go on tapping his feet away, laughing all the while. But there are times when he’s just not in the mood. He may even go along with a request to recite a few lines or count to 20, but do so monotonously or irritably. It’s these times that I have to be mindful to respect his feelings for several reasons:
- He may end up feeling like a novelty; someone called on to perform (try to think of the last time you asked an adult, “Hey, why don’t show so-and-so how you play ‘Under the Bridge’ on the guitar?”).
- He may become bashful or embarrassed from being in the spotlight. While my toddler is only two, there will be a day he’ll realize that people’s laughter—however innocent the intent—is aimed at him, and he may not like it.
- He may not feel ready to perform. If he’s just learning how to identify a few words, he may not feel 100% confident about reciting a whole book in front of people just yet. Pestering him to do so may frustrate him, or worse, cause him to stop pursuing it.
- He may equate learning with praise from other people. Receiving attention might lead him to externalize his rewards rather than pursuing talents for his own personal, internal satisfaction.
More often than not, I don’t need to push my toddler to perform. When left to his own devices, he’ll eventually warm up to the crowd and start making his own jokes, or willingly sing Twinkle Twinkle and 20,000 children’s songs when asked. But if he isn’t in the mood—he isn’t smiling, doesn’t look like he’s enjoying the attention, or is ignoring me—then I take a step back. I want to respect his space and allow him to interact with others in what seems most natural to him, not because his parents said it’s show time.
Do you find yourself pushing your kids to perform? Do your kids like putting on a show on their own?
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