Improving a child’s physical coordination takes practice. While most children find physical activity fun, those who are clumsy often see sports and games as yet another opportunity to fail or to be rejected. Here are some things you can do to help:
- Play active games with your child. Some of the children whose parents don’t play catch with them and chase them around as toddlers and preschoolers have trouble keeping up physically with their peers by early elementary school. Remember that during the early years it’s more important that your child have fun throwing a ball than that he do it well. If you child is laughing, you’re both doing a good job.
Work on skills that require balance. Balance is fundamental to coordination. Pretend with your child that you’re circus performers as you walk along a line on the sidewalk or on a narrow board. Try roller-skating or ice-skating. Again, begin by focusing on enjoyment more than technique.
- Work on both fine and gross motor skills. The two don’t always go together. Some children are highly skilled at using their fingers for delicate tasks like handwriting or threading beads, but they may be poor at gross motor skills like jumping or running.
- Show some sympathy. If your child says he’s not good at sports and has trouble hitting a ball, let him know that you know how upsetting that can be. If you argue or say it isn’t important, your child is less likely to listen. A good next step is to help your child realize that he is not a total failure. Focus on an activity in which he is more successful. For example, a child who says he’s not good at baseball may actually be quite good at catching a ball. But he may be so distracted by his hitting problems that he only pays attention to that aspect of the sport.
- Enroll your child in an after-school sports program. Unfortunately, some of these programs may make a clumsy child feel even worse. One sign of a good program for young children is that it emphasizes personal accomplishments rather than winning. There should be lots of one-on-one coaching and encouragement. Also, if all the program offers are team sports, your child may become even less enthusiastic and self-confident. Interview the people who run the program. Watch several sessions, and talk with other parents who have children in the program. Remember that young children are much more interested in having fun and improving their skills than in winning.
- Provide a safe environment for your child to build skills. Some one-on-one coaching, either by you, a coach, a teacher, or an older child can help an awkward child catch up with his peers. So will some informal family games that allow you not only to give some discreet pointers, but also to praise progress. Expect your child to test how you will react to failure. (Will you get angry or give up?) Don’t overdo this practice. Twenty minutes a day is usually much more effective than three hours a day.
- Don’t let your child become inactive. Children who feel that they cannot keep up with their peers or perform well enough may respond in ways that make the problem worse. They may avoid all athletic games and become sedentary. You may have to do some unpopular things, such as unplugging the television, to encourage your child to play.