Parents make tough calls.
Sometimes on a daily basis.
When you’ve put an investment of time, money, and energy into an activity like dance, helping your child make the decision to drop out (or not) may feel like it involves some of your toughest calls yet.
You want to do right by your child. Their happiness and their health are priority. To help you in that mission, I sought out the opinions of a professional who works with young people and their families.
I first encountered Chantale Lussier-Ley via a teleseminar offered by our friends at DanceStudioOwner. She is a mental performance consultant based in Canada who has worked extensively with dancers. You can check out her list of credentials below but I am thrilled that she took some time to talk with me about a big, big subject: what to do when your child wants to quit dance.
Chantale Lussier-Ley: It’s important to identify the source of discontent. Sometimes children say they want to quit, when a ‘problem’ arises. Identifying why your child is unhappy in dance is critical to finding a solution that truly fits the situation.
Is it with the demands of the class? A potential mismatch with teacher-student personalities? Is it the style of dance that may not fit the child’s taste or preferred ways of moving?
There may also be a number of non-dance-specific factors such as day or time of day, or it could be social or psychological reasons such as experiencing feelings of internal or external pressure, feeling stressed, tired, and over-scheduled in general, fearing of failure, or wishing they were in a different class from a social perspective.
A few key questions could be:
- I thought you liked dance. What’s changed?
- What part of dance are you struggling with?
- You know, sometimes, there are very good reasons to stop an activity. But other times, it’s important to work through our obstacles. What’s the obstacle here?
- What solution do you think would make you enjoy dance once again?
DA: What can a parent/child do when the student doesn’t like their teacher?
CLL: The first thing is to recognize that a child will likely mirror a parent’s attitude towards the teacher. So the first thing I would suggest, is to check in on how you, as a parent, feel about the teacher. Are you being respectful, kind, and supportive of the teacher’s efforts and approach?
Assuming that you are, encouraging a child to find three positive things they like about their teacher, and focusing on those for a few classes, may help to re-establish a positive connection.
Asking for a parent-teacher-student mini chat may be another way to nurture a positive relation between the teacher and child, and enhance the student’s perception of the teacher and the dance class.
DA: How can a parent get to the root of the vague “my class is boring” reason for wanting to quit?
CLL: At the end of the day, learning can best occur when the level of challenge is well matched with the growing level of skill. Too easy, and a child will be bored. Too difficult, and a child may feel overwhelmed. Both scenarios may affect motivation to dance.
If it becomes apparent that the level of challenge & skills are mismatched, this can likely be addressed by asking for a meeting with the teacher and/or dance school director. Perhaps the child needs more time at a previous level, or perhaps the child needs to jump to the next one, as they may be progressing faster than their peers. In both cases, it is not necessary to quit dance.
DA: Is there a difference between quitting and letting go of an activity?
CLL: Sometimes, kids (and grown-ups) quit as soon as they feel defeated by a task, a job, or an activity that seems beyond their abilities.
When this happens, motivation to dance can be drastically impacted. In such cases, it’s important to remind kids that “failing”, not being able to master a skill instantly, is normal. In fact, being willing to try and to fail, is an important part of developing mastery in any activity, be it art, sport, or in life.
That said, children’s tastes in movement styles and in music, will change, and in my perspective it is important to give a child a fairly broad range of physical and artistic experiences so that a child can make informed choices on what they like and feel an affinity towards.
To complicate matters, it may be important to check in as a parent to make sure it’s not in fact about us. In other words, who’s doing the “letting go” may be an important question to address.
When is it okay to just walk away?
DA: Are certain types of emotional or physical conditions or stresses “no-brainer” reasons to step away from dancing?
Dance and sports are sadly sometimes still spaces where “old school” mentalities of “no pain no gain” apply, and where mental and verbal abuse exist. Now this is not to say that children need to constantly receive only positive feedback, but the environment in which they learn and train needs to be a physically and psychological “safe” space.
Failing is an important aspect of development. How teachers, coaches, parents, and students in a school react to moments of “failure” speaks greatly to the culture of a dance school. A culture of excellence nurtures success by making it safe for kids to try, fail, and try again, until mastery inevitably grows.
Anytime you feel that parental gut feeling that this learning approach, or environment, is not safe for your child, stepping away from the situation is in fact the right choice. This may mean walking away from paid dance fees depending on a school’s refund policies, but your child’s wellness is far more important.
The same principle applies to physical conditions.
Is learning dance uncomfortable? Absolutely! Will there be some significant levels of discomfort as kids become more and more challenged in dance? Yes. However, some teaching approaches are not as scientifically informed as others and at times put children’s growing bodies under unnecessary stress, and danger.
Do your research about what safe stretching techniques are, what age range is considered safe for children to go on pointe in ballet, and about nutritional needs for your growing, athletic child. Speaking of nutrition, any dance school that would require your child to go on a diet, especially without guiding you and the child to proper nutritional support, would be a big red flag to me. Information is power, do your research.
When is it NOT okay to quit?
DA: When should a parent enforce sticking with it?
CLL: Knowing when to supportively challenge, and when to let a child walk away from dance is never easy.
Considering my earlier answers, if things have been discussed with the child, and one is certain that the child is both physically and psychologically safe in the dance setting, then matters have to be addressed at the level of the individual child and child-in-context.
If it is a matter of the child’s changing tastes, I would encourage a parent to discuss with the child, their commitment to the class, the teacher, and their peers.
Sports and the arts are inherently social, and as such, there is a certain level of social responsibility involved. This provides a great venue to teach children about their contributions and responsibilities towards the group or the team. As a dance studio owner or parent, it may be important to make a child (or parents) realize this kinship between dance and sport.
When a child is in a safe, rich, creative, learning context, NOT quitting may be the biggest gift you give your child. In this way, you may support the development of their personal resilience, in the face of obstacles.
CLL: Objectivity is often help as a higher means of evaluation than subjective. However, we need to recognize that students experience dance subjectively: this means from the senses, from their bodies, and from their unique view of the world.
The pros-cons list may leave out many important factors to dancers’ experiences: social, inter and intra-personal, emotional, and even physical. After all we can’t know what it feels like to be in this or that dance class, unless we ask. And as the expression goes, asking’s for free.
Whether you are a parent, or a dance teacher, ask. Ask in a safe, open-ended way. Too often we limit the choice of potential answers by given children choice a) or b). An open-ended questioning conversation, in this case, may prove to offer more meaningful feedback from the child’s subjective perspective.
Based on what you hear, you may feel better informed to support the child who is considering quitting dance.
Finish out the year…?
DA: Is the classic finish-out-the-year deflection a reasonable thing to do in most cases?
CLL: In most cases, I would say yes. From a psycho-social perspective, there is much to be gained from learning to finish what one starts. Barring the presence of any major obstacles, nurturing a “stick-to-it-ness” will inevitably help nurture a child’s sense of accomplishment, social responsibilty, and may even nurture their ability to find solutions to the obstacles they initially perceived as insurmountable.
Has your child ever mentioned quitting? How did you handle it?
If your child wanted to drop out of dance, how would it make YOU feel?
Chantale Lussier-Ley, PhD (c) is a registered member of the CSPA. She has nearly ten years experience as a Mental Performance Consultant with athletes and artists. Notably, she has recently worked with the 2012 gold winning IIHF world champion U18 Canadian Women’s National Hockey Team and the highly competitive Ottawa Senators’ Women’s Hockey Junior (InterAA) team. She has also worked extensively with dancers, consulting for the Royal Winnipeg Ballet School’s Professional Division (2002-2004) and the Professional Contemporary Dance program at The School of Dance (2005-present). Herself a graduate of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s Professional Division Teachers’ Training Program, Chantale is a professional member of the Cecchetti Society of Canada with Associate Diploma teaching certification and Advance Cecchetti (ballet) with over 20 years of dance, teaching, and performing experience. Since 2009, Chantale has taken a seat on the National Committee of Physical and Health Education Canada’s Dance Professional Advisory Committee. Currently in her final year in the Faculty of Education at the University of Ottawa, her doctoral research was conducted at the 2008 Canada Dance Festival and was funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. A part-time professor at the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Arts, Chantale teaches a course on mental performance for the Arts to musicians and actors. Equally at ease working with grassroots, developmental, elite or professional contexts, Chantale enjoys bringing her own creativity to her work on the mental elements of Excellence in sport and the performing arts. For more information, please visit www.elysianinsight.ca or e-mail Chantale: