As studios in many areas begin to open up with safety protocols in place, dance students are, of course, itching to get back into class. But just because dancers can go back to in-person training doesn't mean all families are ready for their children to actually do so.
As a parent, it's understandable to feel caught between a rock (your dancer's will to attend in-person class) and a hard place (your concerns surrounding COVID-19). Yet no matter how many tears are shed or how much bargaining your dancer tries, the bottom line is that when it comes to issues of health and safety, you—the parent—have the final say.
Still, there may be ways to soften the blow, as well as best practices for setting or amending expectations. We asked Danielle Zar, a child and adolescent psychotherapist who specializes in parent education, to share some tips for this tricky situation.
First things first:
Always acknowledge your child's feelings. "Empathize with them," says Zar. "You want your dancer to feel heard. And if you create a relationship in which he or she feels like they can turn to you and feel acknowledged, it's more likely that they'll turn to you in the event of a problem."
Try saying this:
"I hear how frustrating and upsetting this is for you. It must be so hard to see your friends returning to class when our rule, for now, is that you stick with virtual classes." Zar emphasizes the "for now," which leaves room for change. "It helps to include the idea that there will be an opportunity to work together to figure out what to do moving forward."
"Not being allowed back in the studio may elicit some really angry and frustrated feelings," says Zar. Maybe your teen storms off or verbally fights back, or maybe your younger dancer is sad because they feel left out. Regardless, remain available for any feeling—even if acknowledging it doesn't seem to help in the moment. "The message you're sending is 'I hear you. I'm here for you. And I'm looking out for you and keeping you safe," says Zar.
Listen. And listen some more:
Never dismiss your child's feelings ("It's only dance class," for instance) or try to talk her out of how she's feeling ("You can't be mad because you don't even like that ballet class"). Arguments can be exacerbated when children feel they aren't being listened to or understood.
Solve problems together:
For older dancers, ask them what may make continued virtual learning more bearable, and, together, decide what may be feasible: Maybe it's creating a better dance space in your home or adding special one-on-one training sessions with their favorite teacher. "If it's more of the social aspect that's missing, especially for younger kids," says Zar, "consider adding some safe, socially distanced and masked playdates with dance friends you trust."
When you're ready to begin reconsidering a return to the studio, have another conversation with your child about rules and expectations. "Research the studio's safety guidelines together and discuss what will be expected of your dancer," says Zar. "Ask what she'd do if her classmates weren't following the rules. Would she feel comfortable saying to a friend 'Hey, Betty, back off--you're too close'?" Think about your child's ability to keep proper distance from others and to determine what's safe and what's not. "Above all," says Zar, "let them know that the ultimate condition of eventually getting back into the studio is a willingness to communicate with you under any circumstance."