Help…My Toddler Won't Go to Class!

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    By: Dawn Juntilla

    Help…My Toddler Won't Go to Class!

    You are so excited! You signed your toddler or preschooler up for a new activity - swimming, gymnastics, dance, music.  You told your child all about it and he or she can’t wait to go.  Finally, the day arrives, you get to class and suddenly your child’s tune changes to “I don’t want to.”

    It’s inevitable that a child will put up some level of resistance when thrown into a completely new environment with people they don’t know.  As parents, most of us have been there and shouldn’t be surprised when it happens.  Yet somehow our own enthusiasm seems to blind us to the possibility.  Here are some suggestions to make a quick recovery.

    Go With Them
    Toddlers and preschoolers may still struggle with transition and separation.  Even if it is not a parent and child class, ask the provider if you can participate just long enough to get your child comfortable.  You might want to be prepared if participating requires you to wear special clothing such as a swim suit.  Of course, this strategy has its potential pitfalls, this tactic could simply delay rather than cure your child's separation anxiety.

    Love Them and Leave Them
    Perhaps you have a toddler or preschooler who tends to put on a show for you, but is just fine as soon as you walk out the door.  Go with it.  Talk to the teacher ahead of time and agree that the teacher will accompany your child into the classroom.  Say good bye to your child and leave the viewing area.  You may be pleasantly surprised to see how quickly he transitions.  You know your child best and can probably guess whether this tactic will calm them or result in a full tantrum.

    Reverse Psychology
    For some children, it is all about the power struggle.  Your child knows how much you want them to go to the class and decides it is the perfect time to show off their independence.  The good news is you can let them be independent and get them to participate.  Simply tell your child that they’re not being a good listener and which means they’re not allowed to go to class.  I was amazed how quickly this got my son interested in swimming lessons.   You have to be willing to follow through on this strategy.  Empty threats are not effective. If they still do not want to participate, it is best to leave the lesson and the battle for another day.  If the tantrum begins as you are leaving class, let them know they will have a chance at the next lesson to be a good listener. 

    Positive Reinforcement
    Call it what you will. Some might consider this strategy bribery, but either way, it is quite powerful. Tell your child that if they go to class, and they’re good, they can pick what you make for dinner that same night. Or, they can pick a special treat the next time you’re at the store. As long as you’re not abusing this method of persuasion, it can be quite effective. And can be discontinued if and when your child starts to genuinely enjoy the class, which shouldn’t take longer than the first few weeks.

    Determining the best strategy has everything to do with identifying the underlying cause of the problem and using your personal parenting experience to decide what is most effective with your child.  Good luck!

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