We regularly have parents calling us up before they commit to a class to ask, “Will my child know any one there?” We hear how the child won’t come to any new activity unless they are guaranteed to know at least a handful of other children and do our best to soothe the anxiety of parents of shy children case by case. However, it’s becoming a common enough occurrence to address here.
Parents, with all the best will in the world, I don’t think you’re asking the right question. To decide whether or not a child can do an activity based on their already established peer group being in attendance feels limiting to me. At some point in their past, your little one didn’t have any friends and they have since made them. Making new friends is such a valuable skill and one of the great pleasures of life. How about asking us what we do to help facilitate this skill? Why not ask how many other children won’t know any one on the first day? (There’s always a quite a few). Why not ask about our track record for bringing children out of themselves?
Since you haven’t asked, I’ll go ahead and pretend that you have! (There’s a reason I’m a Drama teacher). So, how do we ensure that the children make new friends, you ask?! Good question!
As our classes run from 10am – 4pm we have the luxury of time to spend on Monday morning making sure that every one is going to get along. We start every week by asking who is new and who doesn’t know any one yet so that all of the children can identify who their potential new friends are and who might be feeling a little shy. Children are set the task of making at least one new friend by the end of the day – we check!. Then we demonstrate fun ways to make friends and play games that help to break down barriers and encourage silliness. Being silly together is a great leveller and a proven way for Applause! children to bond with new people.
It doesn’t stop there: we have a reward system at Applause! and we remind the children that one of the easiest ways to get a point is to be friendly. We encourage group games at playtime where no one is excluded; we partner up new children with our Applause! veterans: children who we know to be kind and easy to befriend. At lunch time we make sure that every child is sitting next to someone they can make friends with – if they haven’t already – and rather than breaking up existing peer groups, we actively encourage inclusion so the group swells with new members who no one resents.
As the week goes on, it’s a joy to see friendships growing and children glowing with confidence. Making new friends is an important way for us to know that we are likeable and that the world is filled with people who are not so different to us. I get a little sad every time a parent chooses to exclude their child on the basis that they won’t know any one. The child misses out on so much more than a week of performing arts.
Ah, you cry, but my child is shy! What is shyness but a fear of the unknown? If we continually give into fear we allow our world view to be defined by a bunch of mean spirited little thoughts floating around in our heads. I was a shy child. Painfully so. I remember the sweating, the shortness of breath and opening my mouth to speak and nothing but a squeak coming out. It felt very real at the time. However, I was fortunate that I had teachers and parents who gently, but insistently, put me in situations where I had to push through the fear and step out of my tiny comfort zone. Eventually my experience of life outweighed the fears in my mind and I will be forever grateful to my Dad for forcing me to go to dance lessons despite me crying for a whole night prior to the first class. As harsh at it seemed at the time, I had made so many new friends by the end of the first term that my social calendar was a whirl of birthday parties – and I got to perform! Good bye, shyness!
Finally, a word on stage fright. Stage fright is a perfectly normal part of performing for both children and adults. A couple of times this summer we’ve had children show up on show day absolutely in bits with nerves. I applaud those brilliant parents who brought the children in any way. Imagine of they had been allowed to stay at home and missed out on showing their hard work to an appreciative audience and the chance to step through a fear. Every time we back away from a situation because of fear we strengthen that habit and limit our lives. Instead, the children got to air their fears and discover that every one was a least a little bit nervous – in other words, we are all vulnerable and that’s nothing to be ashamed of! We stress that stage fright/ nervousness/ butterflies/ excitement, whatever word you use, all means the same thing: you care about the show and want to do well. What a beautiful thing. To have created a performance in the space of five days that you are passionate about.
I know you want the best for your child. Trust that I do too. My wish for your children is that they become independent, confident, free-thinkers. Making new friends and putting on shows are not the only way to achieve these goals, but they sure do help. Step through the fear – your child’s and your own – and enter a world of new possibilities.