Children who avoid activities miss out on skill development.

Ways to Handle Avoidance Behavior in Children

by Karen LoBello

You can’t wait for your daughter’s first day of soccer practice. After all, she has your genes, so she has to be good at it. Why isn’t she excited? She didn’t even want to try on her flaming red soccer shirt. If your child feels pressured or fears she’ll disappoint you, she may purposely avoid a situation, according to Dr. Kimberly Renk, associate professor of psychology at the University of Central Florida. You can set the stage for a positive attitude toward new challenges.

1. Emphasize Learning

Kids want to live up to their parents’ expectations. If your child believes your main concern is how he performs a task or how he measures up to other kids, he will pull back, afraid he’ll disappoint you. Stress the importance of learning and developing ability in a new activity. When you push your son, “C’mon, hit a home run,” he feels anxious and defeated. Instead, show him how to hold and swing the bat and encourage him to keep his eye on the ball. Praise small accomplishments.

2. Teach Coping Skills

Your child may avoid a situation to protect his self worth. If his best friend Joey knocks lots of pins down when he bowls, your son may not want to participate in the game, fearing he won’t be as good. He may worry that other kids will make fun of him. This can spur anxiety. Teach him ways to cope when he feels anxious -- laugh it off if his ball goes in the gutter, ask Joey for tips, remember that he’ll get better each time he bowls.

3. Monitor Reactions

Your child may avoid an action you’ve asked him to complete, such as putting away his toys. Examine the way you handled the situation. What was your tone of voice when you asked him to complete the task? Did you monitor him to make sure he followed directions? These are good points of intervention if your child is avoiding your requests, says Renk. Use a positive approach for effective results.

4. Model Behavior

Your child may tune into your actions more than you realize. If he hears you tell a friend you don’t want to sing in the choir because you “don’t have a good voice,” he will decide that it’s okay to make excuses to avoid a challenge. Instead, draw attention to activities that are difficult for you. “I’d love to be able to play the piano. I’m going to take lessons until I learn to play my favorite songs.”

5. Provide Guidance

Choose activities for your child that will maintain her interest. Just because you loved to dance doesn’t mean that she will like it too. Take note of what appeals to her. Provide lots of opportunities for new adventures and experiences. Even though you have to compete with video games and television programs, don’t let her become attached to these devices. Encourage her to set goals and step out of her comfort zone.

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