4 reasons I don’t push my kid to perform

4 reasons I don't push my kid to perform
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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10 thoughts on “4 reasons I don’t push my kid to perform

  1. My mother always said that my brother had a lovely singing voice as a child. She was sure that the reason he didn’t sing later on was because she’d pushed him to perform for guests too often.

    I don’t know if she’s right, but I also don’t know what my brother’s singing voice sounds like–now, or at any point that I can remember–because he never sings. At all.

  2. As far as I can remember, my parents always pushed me to perform and I hated it. So I swore I would never do it to my children.
    My husband, on the other hand, is a born entertainer. He loved to put on a show as a kid and he still does. I often notice him pushing Livi to show others what she has learned. I’m sure it’s because he’s proud and doesn’t have any negative feelings about performing. But I still keep an eye on it and if she feels uncomfortable about it, I usually tell her that she doesn’t have to do it if she doesn’t want to. Sometimes she does and other times not. That has worked out pretty well so far.

  3. It depends on the day (or moment) for our daughter on whether or not she wants to perform. We are careful not to push her (and not to let other people push her to perform either).

  4. The flip side is having kids who want to do nothing. I do require my boys run cross country for the fall season. All three have a bit of talent but that is not what it is about. I want them to be with a good group of kids engaging in something that is a team, and having fun. Beyond that, I don’t care how they do. They gripe a little about it, but in the end I want it to be about socialization, where they otherwise would not (aspergers lends itself to that) socialize, and to be part of a group. And I don’t know how that relates to younger kids. Since mine are teens, it may be a bit different. When they were younger I didn’t make them do anything at all.

  5. I remember being asked to do this and that as a child and sometimes my mum persists until now and it embarrasses me especially because I feel that talent will be recognized by people and does not need any self promotion by parents. It definitely about letting your child do what comes naturally. Great post – will be referring to the blog as bub grows up.

  6. I always felt like I had to perform and it was embarrassing. 1. I am blind so anything I did was amazing!!! and needed to be displayed to the world.
    2.My school had lots of tours of people who wanted to see what a “blind school” was like. So, we had to perform all of the time and it felt so staged — just for a good rep and money and people to say how “great” we were.
    3. Sometimes it can have a negative effect with siblings and peers. You can be teased for your talent or others cold be jealous of the attention that you receive.
    I might ask my LO if he wants to show how he can count, etc. but, I won’t mind if he never does.

  7. i realized at a swim meet to not push my daughter anymore. She pushes back with not doing well. It depends on your child, and if he wants to do it or not. But we parents have to push our kids in certain ways of how to be leaders, and team members, responsible, and how to be good people. They also should learn some kind of sport or activity that they enjoy doing. Otherwise, they will do nothing and not have any life skills. You need to push or boss your kids somewhat, because some kids like my daughter will nto do anything unless told to do so.
    I’ve also noticed that when my kids were younger, I thought I was a parenting/child expert. That all changes when your kids reach their teen years!! I really should start a blog called—-“I get no respect!”

    • It’s funny, but growing up my mom didn’t really push us to stick with anything. She obviously signed us up for the classes, but if we wanted to quit, she had no problem with it. The reason why is because when *she* was growing up, her parents and grandparents pushed her to do everything and forced it on her. So when it came time for her to be the mom, she took the completely opposite view.

      Hopefully I’ll be somewhere in the middle. This post talked a lot about performing for others but it can also apply to how much we push our kids with activities. I can see why kids need to be pushed; they don’t see their potential as much as adults can, and I like the idea of parents believing in their kids (even when others won’t when they’re older).

      At the same time, I can’t imagine forcing my kid into an activity they don’t like. Ideally, my kid will just want to sign up for tons of hobbies, and my problem would then be how to narrow it down to one or two!

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