My almost 6-year-old daughter is taking gymnastics, and it’s been a few weeks of fun classes with a great teacher and adorable girls. But it wasn’t news to me when she bowed out of swinging over the bar. She becomes nervous in these types of situations, particularly when she does not know what will be happening next. But, she then became upset for not trying, perhaps because she witnessed the other girls swing over themselves. Between the teacher and me, we helped to calm her down, and she completed the rest of the class, just skipping the part with the bar.
I can certainly understand her fear and discomfort. I was a horrible swimmer as a child and deathly afraid of the water. I would often skip lessons while at overnight camp due to this intense fear and embarrassment. I wanted to run away from this fear instead of fighting it with the support of excellent teachers.
The next week before class I talked to my daughter about doing what feels comfortable. I told her that she can certainly try something new and will be safe with the teacher standing by, but she can also decide she’s not yet comfortable.
I had no idea what to expect, but she ended up surprising herself and me. She told the teacher she was going to be brave and went over the bar backwards. After landing on her feet she yelled out, “I did it! I did it!” All of the other moms cheered her on as did her classmates. She came over to me and we high-fived each other, and I told her how proud I was of her. She told me she was proud of herself, too.
Now after this experience I thought she was all set for future classes in terms of self-confidence. That was not exactly the case. At the next class, she was again nervous and burst into sobs when she realized how scared she was. As she watched all of the other girls have their turn on the bar, her self-esteem plummeted. She said she was feeling tired, which I read through as a better excuse than, “I am upset with myself for being afraid while everyone else is doing it.”
The teacher tried to calm her and I remained seated, watching and waiting. She was hyperventilating and sobbing out of control. I sat her with me and told her it is OK to be afraid. I told her to try to take some deep breaths to calm herself, but we were already past that point. I took her in the hall and kneeled in front of her in order to be at eye level. What has helped her in these situations in the past is doing some guided imagery where she just concentrates on my voice. I tried it here, talking about the sunshine and how my skin feels when it’s in the sun. I asked her if she likes the way the sunshine feels on her cheeks, and she said she did. She listened, and as I went on, the sobs started to dissipate. She finally calmed down and I could feel her heartrate decrease.
Mine, on the other hand, remained at a fast pace. Mommy was exhausted and so thankful we could work together to help her get through this meltdown.
When it was all over, I couldn’t help but feel sad that at the age of not even 6, she places so much pressure on herself. Who does she take after? Her mother, of course. Is this a good thing? Not in my book! I love many of the things I have passed onto her, such as her dimple and her curiosity, but I wish the all or nothing, I must be perfect trait had ended with me and not passed on. My fear is that it is too late, but I know my husband and I can continue to work with her on it.
I know it will be a long-term issue to battle, but it is certainly better to begin that battle now rather than when she’s 16 years old in the midst of adolescence. My job, though, will be to not self-blame or feel guilty that this was passed onto her to contend with. And since I already have experience dealing with these traits, I am better able to help her at such moments of fear. The most important piece of this is to talk about these thoughts and feelings open and honestly, which we do quite often. And the best part is seeing her use her own strengths, as the strong and resilient individual she is, in order to cope and treat herself well. Perhaps I could learn a thing or two from her.