One of the benefits that dance has to offer young children is an opportunity and encouragement to be brave, step out of their comfort zone (some for the very first time!), and learn that they will be just fine in a new environment.
Many preschoolers (especially 2-3 year olds) have anxiety about joining a class for the first time. It’s a natural part of life. Though I hate to see a distraught child as much as anyone, I believe that the brief separation from a parent and the chance to experience a new setting, meet new friends, and learn about themselves through interactions with their teacher and classmates is truly beneficial for your child (and the transition is, in fact, a necessary one that must be made at one point or another!). In my experience, most shy or hesitant students end up enthusiastically participating in class after a lesson or two.
Do not fret if your child seems hesitant or clingy at the beginning of class. Here are a few things you can do to support and encourage your child.
1. Talk about dance class all week long! Preschoolers do not have a developed sense of time, and a week can seem like a month to them. Remind your child that they will be going to dance class and talk about how much fun it is! Practice dancing at home with your child and encourage them to dance on their own as well. Talk about how brave they are when they are in dance class and how proud you are of them.
2. After each class, ask your child to tell you their favorite activity from dance class. Ask them what they danced about that day, or what steps they learned. Young children love showing off and it gives them a chance to be excited about what they are learning in class!
3. One of my 3 year-old students wears a special “brave shirt” to each class. It helps her to remember how brave and strong she is for taking a class all by herself. What a wonderful idea! I’ve seen such a transformation in this student– and although she had the strength and confidence in her all along, she just needed a little reminder (don’t we all, sometimes?). Let your child wear a special shirt or headband that will empower them to be brave. I also permit my young students to bring a stuffed animal or doll into class with them if that gives them comfort (only catch: the stuffed friends must sit on the side and “watch”!).
4. Talk to your child’s instructor. They can tell you what your child is working on and doing well at. They may also have some tricks up their sleeves for dealing with shyness or separation anxiety.
Usually, all it takes is time. Your little dancer will come out of their shell eventually, and dance is such a wonderful way to help them unfold into their best little self.