Sunday, January 2, 2011

Forcing the Issue

I was reading Xan's post on two year olds and skating and thinking "Why would anyone do that?" and "Why the hell didn't I think of that, he'd be doing Axels by now. Shit, now we're behind." All skating mom conflicting emotions aside, I got to the point of "don't skate with a reluctant skater." It was "don't force them to skate."

Last night I was putting Stitch to bed, and like a good mom I informed him of the schedule for the next few days. "Tomorrow is shopping day and free skating. I won't bug you. Monday is school, and I think the babysitter has you. Tuesday after school, Coach wants to you hit Practice Ice so you can do your program with the music. Gordon and Coach will be there with you, but the Babysitter will have to take you there."
"Aw, why?"
"Because the competition isn't very far off. Coach wants to be sure you'll do your best, and so you need to practice."
"But then I won't have enough time for homework."
Wow. He's really playing the homework card? "I've come home lots of times to you not having done your homework, so we can do it together when I get home. Just like all those other times."

Am I committing the Cardinal Parental Sin of Forcing? I don't think so. If Stitch wants to compete, and Stitch wants to win, then Stitch has to understand that there is a process he has to go through to get there. I think I'd be an even worse parent if I just tossed him out in a spangly costume without getting him to practice. Stitch still doesn't understand why actors will rehearse every day, and I think he's under the impression that Big League Skaters just head out and make it up as they go. And why not? They make it look so easy! With the exception of Kovalevski looking like lions were waiting at the ice door and falling on his terrified ass, all the Big League skaters are confident and poised. Stitch didn't see the long and arduous training process it took to get that poise.

This "practice" thing is a learning process, and it's still new. I think I'd have the same discussions with him if he were doing acting or choir or dance. And this is Soft Mommy compared from when I would almost sit on top of him with a book and make him read aloud to me to prove to himself that yes, you can read those bigger words. Or when I'd get out the handwriting practice books and go through it over and over and over again. Or when we spent a full forty five minutes learning Averages. I forced it, and it paid off.

Conversely, I know when to back off. When Stitch held a copy of Goosebumps in a hand wet with tears, so frustrated by my insistence that this happen, I told him to take a break for a half hour. We had cookies and talked about something else, and then went back to Goosebumps. He got through chapter 2 without tears. When his pencils broke in the agony of "b's" versus "d's", the paper splotched with evidence of his mounting frustration, we went out for a walk. When we came back, we tried again and it was better. Friday, when he was mad that practice left no time for play, that was a clear indication to back off. So today, he has the entire time to play. I'll even provide extra funds for the concession stand as a surprise bonus.

I think there's a vast difference between helping a kid reach their goals and abilities, and plainly forcing them to do something they don't want to do. Stitch clearly loves to skate, and his quiet ambition sits just below the surface. But he's never done anything like this before. I think he is still afraid of failure, and doubts his abilities. It's not so much a question of "forcing" as it is helping him to see that, "Yes, you can do this, you just need to work at it." He doesn't have that emotional strength yet, so that's where I have to step in and shore him up. (And what if I let him give up? What message would that send?)

"Three turns are hard."
"I know. I'm sorry. But you're getting much better at them."
"I can't do them."
"That's not true. You've got them on your right foot, you just need to work on your left."
"It's too hard."
"You said the same thing about going backwards once."
"I did?"
"Yes. You once told me that you'd never go backwards. Now you're doing backwards crossovers."
"Oh. Yeah."
"Why don't we ask Gordon and his mom if they want to come to Chuck E. Cheese with us after the competition?"
"Yeah. Gordon's nice."

I may be tough, but I'm also big on rewards for honest effort.

(Update: My suspicions were verified about "making it up as they go." I had on the Skate America exhibition over breakfast. Stitch says, "I want to be in an exhibition."
"Then you'll have to practice a routine, just like competition."
"No I won't!"
"Yes, you do. Do you think they just make it up?"
" No. These programs get practiced like any other."
Stitch shakes a fist and says, "Curse you, skating coaches!" He then changed tonight's dinner menu from "shepherd's pie" to "candy pie.")

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