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Children are best seen, not heard. Yet many parents and their aspiring pre-schoolers are challenging this Victorian-era adage, with many kids sent for singing and dancing classes, long before the parents have heard them sing or seen them dance.

For some parents, this is all with the aim of enrolling in talent competitions where the kids get to strut their stuff on television, Singapore Idol-style.

15 minutes of fame

Some people believe these precocious youngsters are driven to compete by a natural love for performing and competing. Other parents scoff at such a notion, and think the former are trying to realize their own ambitions of fame through their kids.

But even those kids who don’t have a love for performance art are being enrolled in singing and dancing classes. This, experts say, help give their theatrical flair a boost, as well as confidence to get a headstart at tackling other aspects of life.

Well, what do these programs really do for the kids? As it turns out, the programs are okay, while the contests are – surprise surprise - not always bad.

Programmes good

Fiona says, “Enrichment programs these days offer a number of classes which include music and movement, singing, speech and drama, musical instruments, ballet, and other forms of dance. Most of these programmes involve an element of performance or an introduction to performance.”

“These programmes can develop confidence and self-esteem as children feel successful in doing something they enjoy. Group activities can develop skills such as cooperation, collaboration and empathy.”

Talent contests not all bad

On the other hand, encouraging a preschooler to participate in a beauty pageant or a song and dance talent competition can nurture their curiosity and allow them to be themselves, and teach them to show their independence on stage.

This independence a preschooler feels on stage teaches him or her that they are able to do things on their own, and that they don’t always need someone else do things for them. Plus, having the parents waiting off-stage when their song is done also lets them know that they will be taken care of, even if they fall.

Fiona says, “I believe in encouraging young children to develop talents and confidence through enjoyable experiences that build their self-esteem.”

However, ”for more sensitive children competitions can be damaging if they do not win.”

Healthy competing

Fiona cautions that while it is important for young children to develop their sense of self worth, competitions which have one ‘winner’ and a number of ‘losers’ can be damaging for a child’s self-esteem.

Programmes that enable children to perform without the element of competition, says Fiona, may be more age appropriate for young pre-schoolers.

When it’s too much

If the child is showing any signs of anxiety or stress, then it is not a good idea to continue the competition, Fiona advises. Also a bad idea is if the competition requires an inappropriate amount of practice and time away from friends and family.

After all, they are just kids.

“Pre-school children should enjoy any programme or activity they are involved in. Pushing children to perform or compete against their peers is a sure way to kill any desire to further their learning in this area,” says Fiona.

What kinds of competitions are available for a pre-schooling child to enter?

Talent spotting competitions, drawing and colouring competitions and beauty competitions are commonly and widely available for children to enter, and most offer prizes as well.

For parents who are hesitant to let their children loose on such contests if they want to, it is important to remember that participating in talent contests is a lot like participating in competitive sports.

The only difference is, instead of running or jumping, or hitting a ball better than an opponent, the child is encouraged to explore his or her artistic singing and dancing talents – in short, developing his or her personality muscles and confidence coordination.

And at the heart of any form of competition should also be the goal of learning the spirit of sportsmanship and competition – the art of losing or winning, with grace. LWB

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