Q: My daughter is in Grade 1 and she likes to play on the playground with her friends at school, but she made a comment at dinner recently that worried me a little. She said that the other kids were “a lot better” than her on the monkey bars, and I could tell that she was feeling bad about herself. She’s a bit big for her age – not overweight but just large – and I’m wondering if that could be part of it. Is there any way we could help her improve on the monkey bars?
If your daughter is bigger than most of her classmates, it sounds like she is probably just struggling with her ratio of muscle mass to overall body mass. This is pretty common at young ages. Swinging on the monkey bars requires a lot of arm strength in relation to total body mass, as well as much stronger hand grip. As a consequence, it is generally much easier for a small child to swing on the monkey bars than a big child the same age.
You don’t have anything to worry about with your daughter. You might simply want to explain to her that everyone has different body types and grows at different speeds, and that she will likely catch up with her peers on the monkey bars as everyone grows over the next year or two.
I would hazard to guess that your daughter, due to her size, probably performs better than her classmates in some other physical activities. If this is true, you might want to point this out to her.
In general, children who are big at an early age will often dominate in some physical activities, such as sprinting, throwing a baseball, or kicking a soccer ball for distance. However, as your daughter is seeing, they will often struggle with activities related to “gymnastics” type movements, such as swinging on monkey bars, or doing forward rolls and somersaults.
This doesn’t mean that you should discourage your daughter from playing on the monkey bars. To the contrary – you can explain to her that everyone’s movement skills will change over time according to our rates of growth and the degree to which we practice different skills. You can also point out that we often have different talents and abilities, and we don’t always have to be the best in everything we do.
Hopefully, she will continue playing on the monkey bars and developing her skills. This assumes that she actually likes the monkey bars and she is having fun. It shouldn’t become a “job” for her or something that she is “graded” on.
A further thought: You could consider registering your daughter in an introductory gymnastics program. She might struggle with learning certain movements, but it will greatly enhance her balance, coordination and strength in the long term.
As well, in the process, it will likely help her abilities in other physical activities and increase her overall confidence in different activity environments.
But there is a lesson here that all kids benefit from learning: we don’t have to be the best in everything we do. We might be more adept than our peers in some activities, and less adept in others. The important thing is to have fun and develop the abilities we have.