My five year old is a happy, bubbly, participative kid...once he is comfortable in his surroundings that is. Introduce him to something new though and he is a mopey, clingy, sit on the sidelines kid. I hate to see him miss out on new things, so I knew I had to find a way to get him involved and not have to fight with him at every new activity.
The daycare that he attended, he started at when he was 8 mos old, so he never went through "new" there, other than to change rooms and he always still had the same kids in his class. Typically, the transition period would only last a morning or two. He would be a little extra clingy as I tried to drop him off in his new room, but that would quickly go away. So, initially, although I knew he was a little shy, I didn't worry about it.
So, our first real opportunity to see his reaction to new things was when I was on maternity leave and had the opportunity to take him to storytime at the library. Unlike the other kids, who likely had been to storytime before they were three, he wouldn't let me leave the room and only after several weeks would even sit near the other kids (I was still in the room, but he wasn't clinging anymore). My conclusion after this experience was, he's a little shy, but with time all will be well. The next fall, my husband took him to evening story time and he didn't always let my husband leave, but he was more participative.
That summer, we signed him up for T-ball. The first couple of games, we had to stand on the field with him and run the bases with him. This was frustrating to us. We played t-ball at home all the time. He enjoyed playing pitch and catch. So, why wasn't he willing to participate in T-ball without our immediate presence? We weren't sure what to do, but for one game, we showed up early, before the other kids and started playing on the field. The kids would arrive and join in and he wouldn't mind. When it was time for the game, we were allowed to sit and watch the game. Realizing that this worked, for whatever reason, we continued to show up, even if just, 5 minutes early. I thought, okay, this is getting easier, maybe we won't have a challenge next time.
The following spring, we signed him up for Soccer. The first few games, he didn't want to go out on the field, no matter how much coaxing we did. His coach tried to actively involve him, but if he went on the field, he would stand there and mope or pick his lip. It was really frustrating, again, here was this kid who loved to run and kick the ball around at home, not even moving on the field. We tried to introduce him to the other kids so he would be more comfortable, but he wouldn't talk to them, instead putting on his shy face. We tried to tell him that if he didn't play he would lose X or would have to spend the day in his room. We quickly quit this tactic, you can't threaten a child into participating - it only makes things worse. After a couple of frustrating Saturday mornings, we decided to try the arrive early approach that had worked at T-ball. And you know what, it worked. In fact, if we weren't there early, he became hesitant about participating. So, we made it a habit to arrive as early as we could for the practice/games. We would head out on the field with him and kick the ball and run around like we did at home. Then, as his friends arrived, he would start to play with them and we would head off of the field to our seats on the sideline. He even made friends with one little boy, who he would ask about by name. At the end of the season, we asked, do you want to play soccer again - he answered yes.
That summer, we did T-ball and he was back to his old requests of stand on the field with me - a totally new team and coaches is my guess. Soccer season arrived again a few weeks ago and the first week, he didn't want to play and was mopey, but we had arrived as the practice/game had started and it was rainy. I wasn't expecting it, this time, we still had a teammate from the spring - the little boy that he had made friends with the last season(we didn't keep in touch away from the soccer field). The second week, we arrived early and magically, he played and was excited and even raised his hand the highest when the coach asked who had the most fun today.
I'm not sure of the psychology of it all, but I can tell you that arriving first and playing as a family has helped him to participate in activities, learn new things and make new friends. I'm glad we were persistent and tried different things, because I think it is important for his social, mental and physical development to explore new things. Being sensitive to his need to adjust to a situation and trying to be practical with our time, we do limit things for now to one activity at a time. I suppose that we may eventually combine something like Boy Scouts with a sport, but for now, we keep it one at a time.
Check out what works for others at Works for Me Wednesdays over at Rocks In My Dryer.
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