Claire Bergman

Dancer: Claire Bergman
Photo by: Geek With a Lens

As most of you know, I LOVE quotes.  I came across this wonderful one on Facebook that I thought was most appropriate and poignant:

Your child’s success or lack of success in sports does not indicate what kind of parent you are.  But, having an athlete that is coachable, respectful, a great teammate, mentally tough, resilient and tries their best is a direct reflection of your parenting.

Change out sports for dance and I’ve got a new mantra.  In fact, many people have been posting similar things all over the internet of late.  One of my favorite being:

I do not have children of my own, but I spend all day every day with children and I believe that this affords me certain knowledge, but also certain objectivity. I can’t help but think, after seeing the results as a teacher that some parents undermine and, in some ways, completely disregard certain lessons and it’s affecting the way their children are in the classroom and in the world at large.

Having clear expectations is something that is lacking today. I think very few parents explain what is going to happen in a dance class before their child takes it.  No one says, ‘We are taking you to your first dance lesson tomorrow, won’t that be fun?!  You get to wear a special outfit and special shoes.  We will go in and wait for your teacher to come get you and you will sit still and use an inside voice until she comes.   Your teacher’s name is Miss Jeri and you will love her.  When you go into class, you will listen to what Miss Jeri tells you to do just like at pre-school and you need to do exactly what she says. You’re going to have so much fun and after class you can tell me all about it.’  This was the conversation my mother and I had before my first ballet lesson; I was 4 years old and I still remember it.  It made me excited.  It made me think that this was something special and it set me up for success.

I hear so often from parents of older dancers, ‘My daughter won’t take class from that teacher because she’s mean.’  ‘He yells and plays favorites.’  I laugh and tell them that not every person their child meets in the world will use a pleasant tone with them.  That people yell, especially when they are frustrated and they think your child can do better than what they’re doing.  People have favorites and sometimes your child will be the favorite and sometimes they won’t.  I try to explain that ballet, or sports for that matter, are getting their children ready for the real world where they will experience all these things.   Don’t protect your child from harsh people; give them the insight to deal with them.

I’ll never forget when I was eight years old, I had a very tough teacher one day.  My Dad came to pick me up for a change and heard some of the things she was saying to us which included: ‘How many times do I have to tell you the same thing; is there something mentally wrong with you that you can’t remember from one second to the next?!’   After class, I watched my dad walk up to the teacher and introduce himself.  I was ready for him to yell and say, ‘You can’t talk to my child that way!’  Instead he laughed and told her he admired her passionate teaching style and he could tell she really cared and loved what she did.  I was shocked!  My dad was a teacher and he didn’t treat his students like that.  On the ride home, he told me, ‘You will learn a lot from that teacher.  Her expectations are high and she won’t take anything less than your very best and I expect you to give her that.  She will make you a great dancer.  Don’t listen to the way she says something, that’s just how she expresses herself.  Listen to what she’s telling you to do and do it.’  If my dad hadn’t explained her to me, I would have shut down and missed out on one of the best teachers I ever had in my life.  What a loss it would have been for me if he had yanked me out of class.

My dad used to love to tell this story about his own father.  He said once when he was in high school, the track team goofed around and lost a meet that they should have easily won.  The coach parked the bus three miles out of town and told his team that apparently they needed more practice and they now had to run home.  When my father told my grandfather what happened, he laughed and said, ‘Well, I guess that’s the last time you boys will lose this season.’   You know what?  It was.  They went undefeated for the rest of the season. Don’t undermine the people that are teaching your child to be tough and resilient.    

Find teachable moments and show your children how to learn from other people’s mistakes.  My mother taught me to be polite and respectful always. We’d be in a store and there would be a child throwing a temper tantrum.  My mother would kneel down and whisper, ‘Do you see that poor little girl?  Do see you how everyone is staring at her, and not in a good way?  You don’t ever want people to look at you in that way.’  She taught me to learn from other people’s folly and that I controlled the way people saw and felt about me through my own actions.

One day, when I was home from college on a visit, my father came home shaking his head.  He told my mother that one of the sixth graders had been bullying children on the bus and was so disrespectful to the bus driver that the bus driver had to make a report and ask that the child not be allowed on his bus any more. The father of the boy called my father and the bus driver liars and told my father that his son would never behave that way.  My father said nothing, slipped in a surveillance video into a VCR on his desk and there was the footage from the bus.  The man stood sputtering and apologizing and assuring my father he would take care of disciplining his son.  My father asked my mother, ‘What happened to the days when children were scared to go home and tell their parents they got in trouble in school that day because they would catch it ten times worse at home if they did?  Since when do parents believe the children over the adults?’

I hate to say that things have gotten worse in the fifteen years since my father first saw this disturbing trend.  Help your children learn the consequences of their actions rather than making excuses for your child.  I cannot even tell you all the excuses I have received from parents that condone their child’s bad behavior and/or failures.  The truth is that no kid is perfect and they are going to sometimes fail, which is fine, as long as they learn from it. They won’t always get the part they want.  They might not always get the grade they want.  Sometimes they won’t even get the part or grade they deserve because life is unfair many times.  The sooner a child learns this, the more well-adjusted they will be as adults.

The other day I saw a child with a brand new Kindle.  I asked her if she received it for a birthday or Christmas gift.  The child looked at me and said, ‘No, I just got it because I’m special.’  I was floored.  I don’t ever remember my parents giving me anything without telling me why I was getting it and they never told me they were proud of me because I was just me.  They were proud because I was well-behaved, or got good grades, or that I was kind to someone who needed it.  Because of this, I strove to be intelligent, talented, kind, helpful, respectful and thoughtful.   Let your child’s self-esteem come from their own accomplishments.     

What am I trying to say?  Simply, prepare your child for the path they must forge for themselves in life.  You won’t always be there to clear it for them, so you need to give them the skills or, let others like teachers give them the skills, necessary for them to fight their own battles, see around corners, understand consequences, persevere in the face of adversity, be self-sufficient, and have self-esteem based on their own constructive actions.  With all of these attributes, your child will find success and ultimately happiness and, after all is said and done, isn’t that what all parents and teachers want for their children?