Making Kids Perform In Christmas Concerts Is Just Plain Cruel

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This time last year my daughter was licking her wounds. And I was feeling like a protective (and guilty) lioness. At a time of year when we should have been grateful for our good fortune, we were trying to forget about the season altogether. All because of a Christmas concert.

Let me backtrack. Last year our family was living in China, and on the days I was working we sent our children – then three and two – to a private international nursery. These expat incubators tend to command exorbitant fees, and this one was no exception (my husband’s employer picked up the tab, happily). A few times a year, the nursery organized an extravaganza, in part, I expect, to show assiduous parents that their dollars weren’t being frittered away on novelties like nutritious food and clean toilets. Thus, in the weeks – nay months! – leading up to Christmas, the children were put through their paces, memorizing lyrics, practicing their moves and trying on their Broadway-calibre costumes.

My two weren’t having any of it. On the morning of the show, as we arrived at a theater the size of Rockefeller Center, my eldest daughter burst into tears. Watching her spirited backstage by her teachers made me want to grab her and sneak her home under my coat. Our younger daughter went willingly, bless her. Then again, what did she know?

We parents congregated in the front rows of the gargantuan auditorium with our cameras ready. When the music started and the children began their parade down the aisles to the stage, we spotted them: our 3-year-old in her street clothes after what I can only assume was a long standoff over her costume; our younger one half dressed, looking bewildered, clinging to some sort of long, leash-like rope.

The show was like a Sondheim revue gone bad. Between a lengthy group overture and finale, each of the eight classes performed two “numbers” apiece, with costume changes in between. There were hula costumes, animal masks leotards, top hats, rapper caps and jeans… And through it all our children were, respectively, miserable and numb. And so was I.

What makes educators think putting young children in front of a huddled mass of tall, hysterical, camera-wielding people is a constructive exercise? The fear, the intimidation, the pressure, the hot lights, the humiliating costumes… It sounds like a constructive form of torture. That or a Jackson-family concert, and, well, that turned out rather badly, didn’t it.

There’s a stack of literature as high as my nose counselling parents on how to help their young children overcome performance anxiety, yet nothing that I’ve noticed to counsel teachers against putting them through performance in the first place. Perhaps it’s just common sense. If so, I guess educators haven’t been listening to their intuition.

This year my younger daughter was spared entirely; the older one took part in a single song, wearing her favorite purple T-shirt, in her school auditorium. It was an improvement over last year, but I still can’t say I approved. I accept that the Christmas show is never going to go away.

But can’t our children be shielded from the horror at least until they’ve graduated from kindergarten? Is that too much to ask?

(Photo: Matthew Cole/Shutterstock)