Last week, a coach in my (Makenna) program forwarded me a parent email, with hopes that I could help with an educated response. Although the questions were specific to the parent’s child, I felt that her concerns were not unique. My hope in sharing my thoughts on Gym Gab is that I can provide useful insight to a greater population of parents with similar situations.
Because this parent inquired advice through a personal email account, I will not share her email in entirety, but rather give a synopsis. Also, I want to commend this wonderful parent for seeking advice on how to help her gymnast in the most constructive way!!!The concerned parent was worried that her daughter’s timid personality seemed to clash with the demands of gymnastics. The parent observed that her daughter seemed to be more afraid of skills than the other children on her team. She also commented that her daughter was struggling with school, church, or anything that required the child to communicate with other people. The mother shared that her daughter loved doing gymnastics overall, but that tears were sometimes part of the experience. The parent acknowledged that she didn’t believe quitting was the answer, but wanted to make sure that gymnastics was not requiring too much of her lil’ one.
(1) Patience will pay-off.
Sometimes the best remedy for young timid gymnasts is time! I have seen many talented young gymnasts struggle with fear. Their bodies are capable of abnormal advancement, but their maturing brains are not ready for lighting speed skill acquisition! Many of them only started gym a short time ago so their confidence is anything but established. It is helpful when coaches and parents are aware and understanding of the child’s fear. In this situation, the five-year-old gymnast is performing routines that include handstand-turn dismounts off a balance beam higher than her head . . . that is understandably scary! It may take time, but patience pays-off. It can be helpful to think of gymnastics as a marathon, and not a sprint.
(2) Gymnastics helps with timid personalities.
It is always hard to see our children struggling, but it is extremely rewarding to see them achieve something they may not have thought possible. Gymnastics provides little opportunities for growth everyday – in a fun environment. Six years ago, I started coaching a sweet, painfully shy gymnast. Talking made her nervous . . . she had trouble asking to go to the bathroom. Performing at meets seemed unbearable. But she loved gymnastics more than she feared it. She took baby steps. Today she is a level 8, who performs the most beautifully confident floor routine. Gymnastics gave her a reason to get outside her comfort zone. It gave her a reason to accept challenges. It gave her little everyday successes that allowed her to feel capable – of anything.
(3) Know when it’s “too much”.
Tears can be confusing . . . they can be a sign of fear, separation anxiety, or fatigue. Unfortunately, most children can’t verbally communicate why they are struggling. This can make it hard to evaluate if your child is still in love with gymnastics or if it is not the right activity.
If you notice that tears or tummy aches always happen on the same event or right before a certain skill . . . fear is probably the perpetrator. A private lesson can be helpful. This allows coaches to instruct at a pace comfortable for the gymnast. Private lessons also provide a safe environment for communication and relationship-building between the coach and gymnast. If there are too many skills to address in a private lesson, the gymnast may have a more positive experience in a lower level. An inappropriate fear, is when the child is afraid of her coach. Address this concern with the coach & program director. Do not be afraid to speak up or make a change if this fear is long-lived.
If your child struggles with separation anxiety, tears at the beginning of class may be normal. Note her mood at the end of class. If she leaves happy and excited, gymnastics is still a positive experience. Things that can help with transition from your arms to class include arriving early, keeping a routine, watching class or clearly explain when you will return (when she is on bars or before it is time to get stamps). Talk to your child’s instructor and work together.
If your gymnast is excited to go to gymnastics, but comes home cranky, exhausted, or has tears towards the end of class . . . the length of gym may be an issue. First, make sure your gymnast is getting adequate sleep – what’s her bed time? Check out Age-Appropriate Bedtimes by Sleep Sisters. Second, make sure your child has a healthy snack BEFORE class to sustain her energy. If class is longer than two hours, many coaches allow a quick snack break in the middle of class. For healthy snack ideas check out our 10.0 list |HERE|. Third, talk to the child’s coach and see if you can slowly adapt your gymnast into the longer practice time. Cut back workout time, then encourage your gymnast to stay ten minutes longer every week, until they are happily managing all of class. Your coach may also recommend a less strenuous group that comes fewer hours.
If addressing the above symptoms does not renew your child’s love for the sport . . . it may not be the right sport! We love the benefits gymnastics offers children of all ages and abilities, but we do not like the idea of forced participation. If your child has had enough (i.e. relentlessly begging to do another sport, no longer flipping around at home, or cries before, during, and after workout) it’s time to help them find a new way to cultivate their talents. Stay tuned for articles including Life After Gymnastics & How to Leave on a Positive Note.
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