The Secret to Toddler Classes

When you imagine the room in heaven where you get to laugh your head off, it may be filled with three year olds playing “real” soccer games. Those little monkeys are kicking it the wrong way, tackling the ball to hoard it with a belly hug, or putting their shin guards on their ears like Dr. Spock. Let’s face it. It’s up for debate as to whether organized sports classes for three-year-olds are really worth the $20 per hour (as well as $4 for the whole pack of Toy Story band-aids for their almost-invisible-but-you-can-see-them-in-good-light boo boos when they get home). Then why do parents care so much about how they do?

Say you yourself were a scrappy, try-as-hard-as-you-can, most valuable player soccer player when you were younger. When you saw the first ultrasound of the baby, you cooed, “Ooh, look at our little soccer player!” You daydreamed about being the soccer coach yourself, and practiced with your child as soon as he or she could walk.

Now here you are with your three year old for the park district debut. You can’t wait to see your little one in action. Drumroll. All the three year olds are on standing the blue line trapping the ball with their perfect little Elmo shoes just like the coach told them to. Except yours. Yours is hiding in the corner of the goal with the netting over his head like a dead fish. You start to sweat. You do that fake laugh thing as you try to pull your tyke from the goal-net tangle and get him or her to stand upright. “Listen to the coach,” you whisper hoarsely through your teeth.

Whether the class is on art, computers, basketball, or turtles, your toddler will not do well or listen perfectly. Your kid is not the first one to completely avoid putting their face in the water for swim class for the first 47 sessions. Your kid may stare into space during the dinosaur class because she woke up at 4 a.m. from the garbage truck and wouldn’t go back to sleep because he thought there was a bee in his bed. You might have the kid who refuses to play basketball because someone else took the only blue ball first and he “doesn’t like orange.”

Of course, toddler classes can be great for socializing, following directions, and learning skills. However, don’t waste a second feeling bad if your kid doesn’t participate perfectly in these supercharged, superfunny classes for little people. Toddlers and preschoolers have wild mood swings, developmental challenges with sharing, fragmented sleep from teething or potty training, overzealous energy from changes in the lunar cycle, and other issues that make it tough for them to play a game with more than two rules or sit for longer than one minute. Every parent in the room gets it.

If a class is a disaster, don’t beat yourself up, project into the future, or wallow in your sadness. The secret to toddler classes is to keep your sense of humor and imagine that you are in heaven laughing.

Erin Leyba, LCSW, PhD, mom to three,  is a counselor for individuals and couples in Chicago's western suburbs. ( Read more about mindful parenting or follow Erin's blog at

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