A Nervous Gymnast

Subject: Daughter is nervous about crowded class

Thanks for your help. Do you have any suggestions as to how to help her with this new change?

First of all, we were not kidding at all about what we said before. Your daughter’s feelings and self-esteem are more important at this moment in time than anything to do with her class or gymnastics.

It’s All About Building Your Daughter’s Confidence

Some parents believe they need to discourage clinginess and crying not realizing that it’s more important at this age to build up kids’ confidence and self-esteem. Forcing your daughter to train for gymnastics in a situation or in a way where she does not yet feel comfortable is not what you want to do and won’t help ease her anxiety and fear. At this age, she’s better off conquering her fears at her own pace.

What Can You Do?

When your preschooler becomes anxious or fearful, follow your instincts — offer a cuddle and reassurance. But don’t stop there. Helping your child to overcome her anxiety may take some creativity. The following may help:

Put on a Happy Face

Good feelings are contagious. If you’re genuinely enthusiastic about your daughter’s gym, odds are she’ll be happier about it too. Ideally, your daughter’s coach is someone who genuinely cares about her happiness and success and will be willing to work with her and you to solve whatever problems she may have. Let the teacher know if you have concerns about your daughter’s transition to the class, and ask them suggestions to help make this change more enjoyable. The approach you both take now will help to prepare her for the many changes that lie in the years ahead.

Acknowledge Her Fear

Your daughter’s worries are entirely normal, are valid and denying them would be unrealistic. Tell her that you and her coach understand the crowded situation and that’s why you both watch her so closely.

Don’t Minimize Her Feelings

It’s natural to want to comfort your daughter but make sure you aren’t at the same time putting more pressure on he. Expressing your expectations for her at this point might actually make her feel more intimidated. Instead, let her know that you sympathize. And never give your daughter the idea or impression that you think her worries are silly or trivial.

Talk It Out

Simply discussing nervousness, anxiety or fear can make it seem less overwhelming. Listening to your daughter can also give you the details and an idea of how you can banish a specific problem. You might discover, for example, that her dread of the water is actually a fear of giant squid, which, you can explain, don’t live in swimming pools.

Let Her Take the Lead

Since preschoolers can sometimes be resistant to parental suggestions, involve your child as much as possible in finding solutions to her fears. She’s more likely to try a strategy that she thought of at least partly by herself. Offer several possible solutions for her situation, then ask her which she thinks might work. Mention some of these possible solutions and let her express which ones she thinks might help her the most.

Make Sure This Is Not About Something Else

Make sure there is not some other reason she is anxious like for some skill or something about one of the coaches that is the real problem and the “too many people” is not just covering up her real fear or problem. Is there some skill she is having problems with or maybe is afraid of? Does she have a problem with the coach and should maybe try working with another coach?

Desensitize Her

If possible, try to calm her fears by turning the problem into a game. Tell her you’re going to play a new version of keep away and you’ll time how long she stays with her class. Since your daughter seems become agitated or anxious in large groups, perhaps plan other fun activities for her and you where there will be a lot of people like shopping at the mall, visiting the zoo or going to the beach.

Exorcise All Her Demons

Establish a relaxing pre and post practice routine and stick to it. Start some new daily routines, such as an earlier bedtime the night before practice or laying out her gym outfit and leotard the night before. Make sure she has enough time for some quiet moments before and after practice. Avoid any arguments or battles before practice she goes to the gym feeling calm.

Be an Early Bird

Until your daughter feels comfortable, get to the gym a few minutes early every class if you can. This will give her time to watch and get the feel of the gym and the flow of the classes. Let her settle into the activity of the gym before the rest of her class arrives. If you happen to be late, just ease into the class activity as calmly as possible.

Provide Reinforcements

If your child knows any of her classmates, arrange with that friend’s parent to arrive together — then regardless of whether you’re early or late, your little one won’t have to enter the gym area alone.

Prepare Her for the New Experiences

If your child tends to get nervous in large gatherings or new situations, she’ll probably do better if you let her know what to expect. Mention that she’ll be meeting new people and going to a new place. Be positive. If she appears anxious, ask her to articulate her fears; then you can come up with ways to calm them. Have her bring a favorite toy or stuffed animal for security. And, when you get there, give your child time to adjust, even if it means that she spends half an hour on your lap.

Explain All The Safety Measures The Gym Is Taking For Her Safety

Tell her that all the coaches are closely watching their groups and her coach is looking out for her. Tell her that they have lots of experience doing this and keeping young gymnasts safe. Tell her you wouldn’t put her in any situation where you weren’t satisfied she was safe.

Expect Backsliding

Don’t be surprised if your daughter suddenly doesn’t make completely steady perfect progress and falls back again. It’s completely normal. There’s no progression without some regression. Regression doesn’t mean that your child isn’t going to succeed. Instead, it’s typically a sign that she’s a little more stressed out than usual and needs support. Acknowledge that she’s having a hard time but tell her that you believe she can do this, and that you’re going to help her.

She Will Progress — Just At Her Own Pace

It’s normal for children in gymnastics to be apprehensive, especially if they have just really started in the sport. Significant changes can make even adults nervous, but adults know from experience that they can get through them. For young kids, every experience is new so they all have the potential for creating anxiety. But they will grow and mature and overcome all of this successfully in time.

Have Your Own Questions?
Ask The Coach
If you have questions relating to gymnastics, we will do our best to provide you with answers to the best of our ability.

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