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Before You Let Your Child Perform in a Holiday Program

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School holiday programs are a rite of childhood, warming the hearts of parents who sit with cameras poised to catch the adorable act. But now, look over there, at that mom of a special-needs child. See her cringe as her child climbs up and down the riser, kisses the child next to him, stares off into space, jumps and shouts. For some kids, the disruptions of routine that come with holiday programs put bad behavior in the script. Here's how to rewrite it.

Suggest preferential standing

Whether you talk directly with the person in charge of the pageant or work through your child's teacher, request that your child stands on the end of a riser, where his movements will be less noticeable; on a low riser, so that there will be no harm if she jumps or falls off; and next to a sympathetic student who will give him some space and help with cues and movements.

Monitor offstage behavior

Alert your child's teacher to the fact that the disruptions that come with pageant rehearsals may affect your child's classroom behavior. Ask that these be kept to a minimum, and request that expectations for your child be lowered during the time that these disruptions are going on. Lower your at-home expectations as well.

Cut rehearsals shorter

If your child is spending large amounts of time sitting around while other classes rehearse, ask if an aide or teacher can take her for walks or give her frequent breaks. Be sure he has some fidget toys or other comforting objects with him while he sits and sits and watches and watches. Perhaps she can be allowed to attend the rehearsal for only the time she's actually rehearsing.

Stress quality over quantity

Maybe your child does great for one song, but then falls apart halfway through the second. If you're hearing from teachers that endurance is a problem, ask if he can just do that one song, and then sneak off stage. Getting away while the getting's good can turn a potential disaster into a positive experience. And next year, you can try for two songs.

Plant someone in the wings

For both the rehearsals and the performance, see if an aide can be stationed near where your child will stand to prompt appropriate behavior and song lyrics, take him aside for a few little breaks during the performance, and otherwise supervise him directly. Give this person permission to remove your child from the stage if it looks like a behavior eruption is imminent.

Be prepared to cancel the show

It may well be that, for your child, such programs are more trouble than they're worth. If teachers are complaining about her rehearsal behavior; if he can't seem to stand still and sing nice; if threats are being made that she won't be allowed to perform -- if something that should be a treat is becoming pure torture, pull your child out. Keep him home that day, or let her sit in the audience with a teacher or with you. Like it or not, there's always next year.
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