My Tiny Humans: You’ll join in when you’re ready

Surprised that her usually outgoing kinder kid was reluctant to join in at AusKick, Natalie Moutafis found a way to gently encourage him without pressure.

The oldest tiny human has been doing some sort of activity each week since he started childcare.  It was a way to ensure we had an activity to look forward to together outside of work and childcare, another way for us to spend quality time together while expelling the seemingly endless supply of energy for my little energizer bunny.

After a few trials, we settled on an organization that offered a different sport every two weeks each term.  This gave the tiny human a taste of AFL, Rugby, Soccer, Basketball, Tennis and Cricket.  If he didn’t love a particular sport, we knew he only had another week of it before it changed – perfect to whet the appetite.

We’re into our third season of the mixed sports, and after noticing his interest in AFL both at the sports sessions and at home, we were excited that he was now old enough to try AusKick – the AFL introductory program.

But the first week didn’t go so well.  He was full of energy and excitement leading into the session. Talking about all the running, hand-balls and marks he was going to do. On arrival, it was a completely different story.  He was reluctant and shy, not wanting to join the rest of the team (kids he’d never met before) and not wanting to listen to the coaches (again, adults he didn’t yet know), even running away from everyone in an attempt to go home.

It resulted in the grown-ups feeling disheartened and admittedly, frustrated.  What happened to our confident and exuberant boy? Why wasn’t he like the other kids and just joining in right away? Plenty of questioning ensued asking him to try and describe how he was feeling and why he didn’t want to participate with not much of an answer.

And then after a bit of research, it occurred to me, maybe he’s not shy, maybe he’s confident.  He knows what he wants, and that includes knowing he wasn’t ready to join the team yet.

So, what do we do as parents? Do we let him give up and stay home, try again next year? No, we’ve decided that we’ll go to the session each week, but we’ll offer him the opportunity to watch from the sidelines and tell him confidently, ‘you’ll join in when you’re ready’.  A statement not so much a question. Letting him know that we know he will join in, but that when he chooses to do so is completely up to him.

Allowing him to do this means he will trust us to be on his side when he tells us something doesn’t feel right; when he’s a teenager and he’s at a party, we want him to trust himself and have the confidence to say ‘no, I’m not going to get in that car with you if you’ve been drinking’ or whatever the situation may be.

It’s likely that it’s more our issue as adults that we worry he’s not participating and joining in and will miss out, but taking the moment to reframe the situation, understanding that he knows how he feels, and that he’s doing what is right for him at that moment.

This doesn’t mean if he starts saying ‘I don’t want to go to school’ that we’re going to let him choose not to go to school, I expect that would take some creative discussion. It will however mean that he feels trusted and as he grows up, we can trust him to make important decisions.

PS – I’m happy to report that the second week went much better. The first half of the session saw him sitting happily off to the side watching the other kids as I reminded him ‘you’ll join in when you are ready’.  He warmed up to the idea of joining in by the second half, decided he’d give it a go and was running from one end of the ground to the other chasing the footy and kids.  We were so proud of our confident tiny human!

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About Natalie Moutafis

Natalie Moutafis is the author of our Tiny Humans blog, providing her engaging and insightful take on life with two young children. Natalie is also a project manager at ISV.

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