Tuesday, June 25, 2013

How To Help Your Kid Overcome Stage Fright: Don't Make Him Get On Stage.

Act #176:  Also celebrate boys who are non-adventurous.

This summer, I signed my five-year old up for Ninja camp.  Well, at least that's how we sold it to him.  In reality, it was a week-long camp put on by the local children's theater based on the children's book, Wink the Ninja. My normally, shy son had just successfully completed Lego camp and loved the experience so much I thought that maybe Ninja camp might be a safe, gentle way to encourage him to build some confidence.  Granted there were only two children in his Lego camp class, and the other child was one of his childhood friends.  So there we sat in our car on the first day of camp, in front of the theater.  And my son cried, pleading not to go to Ninja camp, refusing to get out of the car.  But you'll learn to make nun chucks, baby.  I'll buy you a toy when it's over.  It's only 3 hours and I'll pick you up.  If you don't like it after the first day, you don't have to go back.  We'll go get ice-cream afterwards.  Don't judge folks, I had a meeting to go to in the next half hour, and I was pulling out all the stops to get this boy in the door.   Nothing worked.  So then I decided to listen.  No, really listen between all the snot sniffling and blubbering.  Turns out he wasn't afraid of meeting new kids.  Or being in a new environment.  He was actually excited about learning to be a ninja.  He was however terrified with the prospect of getting up on stage in front of all those people.  On the last day of camp, his class was to perform a brief production of Wink the Ninja for family members.  What can I say, my child doesn't like to be the center of attention.  After about half an hour of pleading, he let me walk him in only after I promised to stay with him for a bit, and only if I promised that he didn't have to come back the next day if he didn't want to. 

At pick-up time I ran into one of the other moms who asked if my son finally let me leave.  Before I could even answer, she proceeded to tell me that both of her kids were really outgoing and that they got their adventurous spirit from her.  That sometimes you just have to toughen them up by cutting the cord.  I smiled politely, but later that night, after hearing all about my son's day, and after I had time to reflect, I wish I would have told her that my non-adventurous kid didn't need toughening up.  That he had a blast creating his Ninja hat, inventing his Ninja special power - Jack, Ninja of Fire, and that he worked beautifully alongside 13 other little kids in creating an entire paper bamboo forest for Friday's set - but he still begged not to be in the play on the last day of camp.  We might be quick to label this "stage fright", and some parents might very well think that the best approach would be to push him a bit beyond his comfort zone.  But I got to thinking - why wouldn't we celebrate a kid who enjoyed creativity behind the scenes?  Who didn't need external affirmations to make him feel validated.  Who genuinely enjoyed interacting and working with, and alongside other kids.  And who could care less about being the center of anyone's attention?  What if all the kids in his class wanted the lead part of Wink the Ninja?  Who then would write the script, build the sets, play Wink's friends, or pull the curtains?

Furthermore, why does having an "adventurous" spirit trump having a creative one, or a compassionate one?  Since when did we begin placing greater value on individuals who climb mountains, jump out of airplanes, backpack across a foreign continent, or hike the Appalachian trail...in the snow?  What about those who spend their days reading or writing in silence.  Not to mention the fact that the vast majority of Americans couldn't even afford to do any of those things, even if they had "adventurous" spirits.

So today, I celebrate my remarkable and wonderful, little non-adventurous Ninja of Fire. And on Friday, I will not "push" him to get up on that stage.  Truth be known, this particular five-year old could probably work all the sound and lighting equipment with his eyes closed.  After all, somebody's got to set the scene for all those adventurous kids.

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