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My daughter often comes home in tears from ballet complaining that her teacher is picking on her and never gives her any compliments. She loves dancing and does not want to quit, but this is obviously upsetting for both of us. What should I do?

In both regular schooling and/or her dancing there is a possibility that your daughter and her teacher will have a personality clash. This is a difficult, but all too common scenario, and there are several ways of dealing with such a situation. One, or several of these techniques, may help clear the air for all parties involved. Especially during adolescence emotions tend to run high, and it is important to deal with any conflict calmly and thoughtfully. It is very easy to jump to conclusions when the situation involves someone we love, but try and see the situation from all sides.

Work out what is actually going on: Sometimes, when we get emotional about a certain situation, we can embellish it in our minds. See if you can get your daughter to repeat exactly what the teacher has said to her, not what she believes the teacher meant. This will sometimes also help the student see if she is overreacting, or whether the teacher is actually being nasty in class. A lack of positive feedback is not the same as ‘picking on’ someone and she needs to be clear on exactly what is happening.

Talk to your daughter about her response: This is an ideal time for your daughter to learn that we can never change another person’s actions, but we can change our response to their actions. By continually getting upset, she is giving the teacher control over her own emotions. If she can stay calm in the same situations, she will develop strengths that are very useful in other areas of life.

Think of reasons why it may be happening: The teacher will have reasons for acting the way she does, whether due to the way she was trained herself, her personality, or her beliefs about teaching. Many dance teachers believe that the strict, stern, disciplinarian approach is the only way to train the precision, strength and technical ability needed to be a dancer, and this approach has worked for many years. Many teachers have set views of how things should and should not be done and often students and parents can find this hard to deal with. It is important to remember that the teacher has often had a professional dance career and knows intimately the trials and obstacles that are often put in a dancer’s way. While they may seem harsh at the time, occasionally techniques are used in class are designed to help strengthen the students for future careers in dance.

Help her realize that a lack of positive feedback does not mean that she is bad: In this age where we are taught positive parenting, young dancers are often used to getting copious praise for everything they do at home. The situation is often very different in a dance studio. Many teachers will make girls work hard for minimal praise, and this approach, if understood by the student, can make any positive comment, or even a slight nod of the head from the teacher, worth so much more than constant commendation.

Talk to her teacher or studio owner: Depending on the seriousness of the situation I would recommend approaching the teacher to voice your concerns. Once you have a clear idea of the situation from your daughter’s point of view, organize a quiet time to sit down with the teacher to discuss the situation. This is often best done without the student present, so that the teacher is able to speak freely. Keep calm, and explain what your child is worried about, without accusation. Listen carefully to the teachers’ response as there can often be surprising reasons why she is acting in a certain way. You may discover that your child constantly talks in class, or is in fact very talented, and the teacher is taking care not to isolate her too much from her peers. If the teacher is not willing to discuss the issue, I would approach the studio owner.

Change schools: If you have tried all of the above techniques, and you are not satisfied with the teachers’ explanations or behavior, the final solution is to look at other dance schools. I don’t feel that this should be used as a first response, as it does not uncover any of the other situations that may be present. It is important for your daughter to learn that she should not run from challenges, but that if it is really needed, it is okay to walk away.

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