I didn’t think I would have done it when Buddy was a baby, but I have since sent him to enrichment classes even before he turns 3. Actually this is on the advice of his daycare teacher. When he was in toddler class last year, he was quite risk averse (might have gotten that from me, and even my husband is not the sort who goes bungy jumping). At the playground Buddy wouldn’t climb up the steps on his own to get on the slide, and he didn’t try anything that seemed risky. Though I must say there are positive sides to it. Unlike other kids, he doesn’t put stuff on the floor into his mouth, nor does he play with electrical wiring or takes out the wash detergents and chemicals kept inside the kitchen and toilet cabinets. We told him “danger”, “no touch”, “dirty”, and he understood. He has quite a bit of self awareness for a young kid. Still, we realize he must learn that not everything is scary and that he can have more fun by trying out new things that are not reckless.
One of his teachers suggested sending him for gym class to build up self confidence and to get out of his comfort zone. We checked out a couple of them and eventually decided on My Gym. Buddy had a lot of fun as he tried somersaults, climbing, balancing on the beam, as well as the games and puppet show. The young bubbly teachers are pretty amazing at getting the kids interested.
After two terms, Buddy developed a more adventurous spirit, and he now goes for the tall slides and crawls through tunnels in the playground. He really enjoys the physical activities, which is great since we want him to be an active kid (he definitely got this from my husband). Anyway we felt that since he has shown much improvement, the gym lessons have done the job and we could move on to something else.
During the parent-teacher season in December last year, the same teacher suggested that we sent Buddy for speech and drama class because he would only speak to the toddler teachers whom he was comfortable with. In fact he didn’t want other teachers to bathe him. He also didn’t join his play mates to sing in front of other kids and teachers, basically he was rather reserved. (Unfortunately this trait is inherited from both my husband and me. The positive side is he is wary of strangers.)
So again, we looked around. We went for trial classes at Julia Gabriels and British Council, and finally decided on Lorna Whiston. We only joined the first term mid-way but that was alright. Buddy was initially curious, and he observed intently during the singing, story telling and drama segments. My husband, who sat in with Buddy during the first class, warned me not to sit near to two rowdy boys because they were pretty disruptive. When I took Buddy in during my turn, I noticed one particular boy as being rather hyperactive, whereas the rest were actually better behaved.
As the classes progressed over the term, the same boy was as rowdy as ever, he would not sit still, but moved around the room as and when he pleased. He would jump and shout, and basically distract everyone. His mother couldn’t control him at all, and all she did was to apologize after him when he shoved other kids. The teacher tried to get him to sit down when he bounced around, but after a while he would be at it again. Still I guess it was not too intolerable and the rest of us put up with his behaviors.
Anyway when the term ended, Buddy had started to be more participative and learning to speak up, and as always, very eager during story telling. So we thought we should continue with the second term to reinforce the improvements. My husband and I were hoping the rowdy boy would not be back, but no such luck. He not only returns, but there are even more kids joining the class this time. In fact, with 10 kids and 10 parents, one teacher and an assistant, the room gets pretty cramp.
The second term got off to a good start, and Buddy seemed to enjoy going for the program. The strange thing is he doesn’t join in the singing in class, but he will happily sing the songs at home. Anyway I took him in for the first three classes. During the second and third one, he started to be more assertive, in fact he was getting a little rowdy by the third class. He would play act as a dinosaur and roar at a couple of other kids next to him. I was alright with it since this was speech and drama after all. But he also started to behave like the rowdy boy, hitting the mystery box and the flash cards that the teacher holds up. The thing is the kids are not supposed to hit the box. They are allowed to look for it and help carry it.
In fact it wasn’t just Buddy but other kids also got into the act. Aftter the rowdy boy started the ball rolling by hitting the box like it was a drum, it was a case of monkeys see, monkeys do, particularly since there was no consequence. Buddy also decided to continue with the dinosaur act, and only wanted to roar. I put a stop to him interrupting the teacher with his antics, and gave him a pep talk, and he wasn’t very happy.
My husband took over from me for the next two classes. When I met up with him and Buddy at the end of the fifth class last week, my husband had a grim look on his face. I asked Buddy how was it and he smiled and said, “so much fun!” My husband shook his head and remarked he didn’t even participate in the class.
We put Buddy through the third degree and grilled him for keeping quiet. He didn’t say anything. I told him to look at me in the eyes and I asked him again.The poor boy just looked at me with a helpless look on his face. When we asked him if he liked drama class, he nodded his head. But he remained silent when I again asked him why he didn’t participate in class that day. I then changed tact and asked if he was scared and he nodded again.
My husband related how Buddy refused to say anything to the teacher, and how he cried when my husband had a time-out with him, and he had to make Buddy sit with the other kids in front of the teacher during story telling. It also turned out the rowdy kid’s behavior had gotten from bad to worse during these two weeks. My husband said it was so difficult to focus on the teacher when the boy was shouting, and he even pushed a couple of kids around including Buddy, during story telling and caused one boy to cry.
I asked Buddy whether he liked gym or drama class, and without hesitation he said “gym”. Later when we asked him if he wanted to return to drama class, he said no.
As we reflected over what happened and our actions, my husband and I felt we might have unrealistic expectations that Buddy would enjoy the speech and drama class and show significant improvement, like the experience at My Gym,. He, being a perceptive kid, sensed it and gave us the answer that we wanted to hear. But Buddy doesn’t like the rowdy environment, and doesn’t like playing with kids who push their ways around. Of course he has to learn how to deal with them in future, but right now he’s still too young to handle them on his own. Besides as parents, we should be guiding him on how to manage such behaviors instead of expecting him to figure out himself.
We also realize that we told Buddy off for naughty behavior in class, but he must have observed that other kids got away with it and probably felt it was unfair to him. Perhaps he became stressed in situations like this, and coupled with the rowdy kids, he refused to join in. To make things worse we thought he was being naughty again.
Yes, we admit we have been too harsh on Buddy, even to the extend of threatening punishment whenever we felt he didn’t behave to our expectations. My husband told me that our actions put too much stress on Buddy and were detrimental to his development. So we have decided to change our hardline tactics and instead use persuasion with Buddy. Punishment should be used as a last resort.
Looking back, we realized that the differences in both gym and speech and drama classes make for different results. Gym class has the space to accommodate rowdy kids, allowing them to do their own things. Many times some kids didn’t want to participate, and the parents then took them away from the group to play at a corner without disruption to the rest. Gym class also has the equipment and lots of toy balls to engage the kids, making the class really fun for them. But it is not the case at the speech & drama class which is held in a small room. Any screaming or shouting can drive you up the wall. What we should have done was to find out if that rowdy kid is returning for second term, and we should not have signed up then. Anyway we will not return for the rest of the classes, and we will be taking Buddy back to gym class. We feel we had stopped it prematurely, and should have given Buddy a longer time to develop his self confidence. Besides it may be too early for him to benefit much from speech and drama. My husband believes that when Buddy gets more confident from the gym classes, he will become less reserved.