Dec 27, 2010

Attack of the two-year-old skaters

I've been teaching lessons all week on midday public skate and have been observing a lot of families skating with, really, babies-- two-year-olds whose parents figure "well, she can walk, so I guess she can skate!" Every now and then you will find a two-year-old who can stand up or even move, but mostly 2-year olds are NOT ready to skate. (And by "2" I mean anyone within their second year of life. "Almost 3" is still "two".)

The biggest impediment to skating before the age of 4 is social and emotional development. Most kids of this age are just not ready to try new things with a stranger. This is why 2 year olds cry when you drop them off at daycare and 5 year olds don't. It is extremely suspicious to very young children for a parent to insist the child do something without the parent. If it's such a cool thing to do, then why isn't the parent doing it? Two-year olds are also sometimes mistrustful of strangers, so putting a child that young in a class, even a parent-tot class, is quite fraught.

There are some things you can do to prepare your child for skating, however. First of all, figure out what's best- public skating with family, parent-tot class, or regular tot class. Your child is ready for regular tot class if she or he:
  1. can easily walk in skates on the floor
  2. understands how to follow 2-3 step instructions ("sit down, now roll to your hands and knees, stand up", for instance, or "find the yellow toy and put it in the yellow circle")
  3. willingly allows her/himself to be handed off to a stranger
  4. speaks the same language as the instructor (this is a bigger problem than you might imagine in urban areas. Older children with language difficulties understand that the instructor speaks a different language and have developed coping strategies. Very young children are just completely flummoxed by an adult who speaks only gibberish.)
Before you jump in and say "oh my child is very social/verbal/smart/athletic" I am here to tell you: No. He's not. You only get to count your child as one of the above if he's that way with everyone, and not just with people he knows.

If your child can do everything but 3 and 4, try a parent-tot class. If your child can only do #1, take her to public skating. If your child cannot even stand up in skates on the floor (and sometimes it isn't "cant'" but rather "won't") then for god's sake, wait 6 months, it won't ruin her Olympic dream.

Here are some ways to get your child ready for skating:
Let the baby watch
Coaches' kids are always great skaters. This is not because they have a "skating gene." It's because everyone they know skates, and they've been seeing people skating their entire lives. Just like preachers' kids are quiet in church, and musician's kids like singing, and actor's kids like being on stage (at least until they get old enough to understand the power of the contrary), it's not different to them. You can use this too--come skating yourself, and sit your child in the stands with a sitter, the other parent, grandparent or friend. If your child sees you skating a lot, they will feel more comfortable with it. You don't have to be a good skater, you just have to be on the ice.

Bring her on the ice, but don't make her skate
Some rinks have "family skates" or just lax public skating rules and will let you put a young child in a chair and push her around on the ice. If you really want your child to skate eventually, the absolute worst thing you can do with a very young child is insist that he skate when he doesn't want to. Don't even put skates on him, just push him around in a chair. (By the way, never carry a child on the ice, especially if you're not an extremely experienced skater, and I'm talking Senior-test experienced. This is incredibly dangerous.)

Sign up the older siblings for class
Two- and three-year olds who have been watching their older sibs and cousins skate are crazy to get on the ice. Sometimes in class we have to close the doors to keep the little ones from just racing on to the ice to be with big sis.

Do not lie to new skaters
Don't tell a very young child that they're going to skate "just like the girls on tv" (or Disney on Ice, or whatever). They will take you at your word, and when they can't glide the first day, or possibly even stand up, they're going to be mad.

Sign up for Mom and Me sing alongs, Music Together, or pre school
Toddlers do much better in skating class when the only new thing they are having to deal with is the slippery ice. Kids who have experience with the concept of "class" do much much better than kids for whom this is the first class of any sort they've every taken. I can't tell you how many parents have told me "I signed her up for skating to help her social skills before pre school." WRONG. So here's this poor little child, supposed to be learning "social skills" when you've put her in an environment where she can't even walk. It's completely backwards, plus I am a skating teacher, not your kid's psychologist. You socialize her. I'll teach her to skate.

Once the baby is on the ice, either with you or with a class, there are still some things you can do to help get them used to concept.

Let the teacher teach
Don't stand in the doorway shouting. In fact, best if you get out of sight. Don't leave the building, but don't stand where it's easy for your child to see you. If your child is not ready to let you out of her sight, she's not ready for class. Sign up for parent-tot. If the teacher seems to be spending a lot of time playing games, sitting on the ice, singing songs, playing with toys, et cetera, she's got a good reason (namely, because these are 2- and 3-year olds and are not developmentally ready for a structured lesson).

No crying on the ice.
I have a firm "no crying on the ice" rule. If a child starts crying I have them stop until they get off. Then they can cry as much as they want, but they are not allowed back on the ice until they're done crying. This works even with children as young as two and is amazingly effective in helping kids like the ice, while allowing them to need and receive comfort. If you're skating with a toddler and she starts to cry, just take her off the ice until she's done, then go back.

Don't skate with a reluctant skater
If she doesn't want to go back, don't go back. Let the child make the decision to skate or not. Really. This is the number one thing that will make your child trust the ice (and you). You don't have to skate if you don't want to (by the way, any freestyle skaters reading this, you have to skate whether you want to or not). Seriously, there are plenty of things in this life that poor child is going to have to do. Why make skating one of them, when they're only 2.

Right now I have a 4-year-old student working on waltz jumps. She stepped on the ice at about 21 months and just took off like a demon. THIS IS NOT NORMAL. Assume your child is normal, and then when she's one of the little geniuses, be pleasantly surprised. Here's what I tell parents: if your child starts skating once or twice a week at 3, by the time she's seven, she'll have really good crossovers and turns. If your child starts skating at 5, by the time she's seven, she'll have really good crossovers and turns.

Little children should skate for fun. If they're not having fun, why are you making them skate?


  1. I can't understand the logic behind "skating class as a socialization experience" for little kids. There are tons of little play groups for little kids that will accomplish socialization without the "falling all over yourself" part.

  2. There is no understanding the impenetrable logic of the skating parent's mind.

  3. I tell the LTS parents, either they are ready ot not.Some kids at age 3 , love love love it or try back in 6 months.
    That said both my kids kids started at that age and never looked back.Their choice not ours!!

  4. My son started skating at 5 (he started as a hockey skater, and now plays travel hockey, but has recently started taking private figure skating lessons). Because she was dragged to the rink constantly, my first daughter started begging to skate at age 3. We started her in parent-tot class, and then she started in group lessons at 3 1/2. She has been skating about 1 1/2 years now, and started private lessons this past summer. Second daughter was similarly constantly dragged to the rink, and started begging to skate at age 2 (see the downward progression in starting age here?). Started her in parent-tot at 2 1/2 and got the go-ahead from the parent-tot coach (when she was seen doing front and back swizzles learned from her brother and sister) to put her in group lessons (snow plow sam) this past fall, four months shy of age 3. They all love to skate for the sheer joy of skating ("I love to feel the cold air rush by my face"). And that is fine with me.

  5. My 2 year old skates just fine. You're wrong.

  6. Anon 11:06--"Your" 2-year old can skate does not mean I'm wrong. It means *your* 2-year old can skate. There are lots of 2 year olds who can skate. There are far far far more who cannot, because it's developmentally difficult. When parents see the lucky gifted ones, like yours, they think there is something wrong with their perfectly normal children, especially when parents of talented children have the attitude that because their child can do something, the ones who can't, and the ones who observe this, are "wrong."

  7. Further, most of this post, if you'd bothered to read it, is about skating IN CLASS. While many 2 year olds can probably handle skates, I have seldom encountered a 2 year old who can handle a skating class. And trust me, I've had waaaay more 2-year-olds in classes than you have, unless you are also a skating teacher who specializes in tots. Yes, I've had kids that young who are just fine in a class. But it's not the norm.

  8. I started taking my son to public skating sessions when he just turned three. He fell quite a bit and occassionally I let him use a walker but by the time he was 3 1/2, he could fall down, stand back up, and march without any type of guidance. When he turned 4, we signed him up for a LTS class because they could teach him proper technique better than I could. He cried like crazy during his first lesson. It had nothing to do with not being able to do what was asked. In Tot 1, all they did was teach them how to fall, sit down, balance, and march. Why did he cry? Because I was on the ice every single time with him prior to these lessons. It wasn't because he didn't want to skate. I was his crutch. He loves to skate and always asks for me to take him to public sessions. So we were caught between a rock & a hard place. He was physically able to be in the classes, but he just wasn't comfortable in a "class" setting (even though he was in preschool for a year prior to this and never cried once). So my wife and I made the painful choice of removing me from the equation. I stopped going to his skate classes and my wife just started taking him. At that point, he quit worrying about me not being on the ice with him and started to enjoy the classes. My point in all of this is that every kid is different. Sure, natural skill is probably the most important factor. Some get it right away. Some take quite a while. Most are like my son that took to the ice pretty well but emotionally we had to cross some hurdles. But once your child gets over those hurdles it's amazing how fast they progress from there. For the record, my son plays AAA hockey now.

    1. Yup. Know your kid. That's the most important thing!

  9. My daughter started skating when she was less than 2. Now she play travel hockey and most of the kids on her team also started skating when they were 2. If the now the technique it's not hard to learn

  10. Hows your child going to learn anything new if you allow them to be afraid of everything? My daughter was potty trained before 2, and I dont believe in the "wait until theyre ready" youre the parent, you need to teach them how to be open and experience new things, not be afraid. My daughter is 3 months shy of 3, and she will be starting skating lessons, because I think it will be good for her to learn, and to be around kids her own age. Wow I would not want someone like you teaching my child anything, your whole post came off as judgemental, close minded, and down right rude.

  11. I think it's great that you are skating with your child, and that is entirely appropriate for very young children. But it is a simple fact that some children are not ready for a class situation. What's rude is assuming that I have the time to babysit your kid who is disruptive because she is frightened because you are forcing her into a situation she's not ready for. Here's a clue-- your child is not the only person in the word for anyone but you. Please don't use skating classes to "socialize" her or "teach her to not be afraid". That's your job, not mine. I teach skating.

  12. Gosh, Read all these posts becuz a Utube video showing what they said was a 2 1/2 year old girl had a lot of comments from people who said she "couldn't be" 2 1/2. She looked 2 1/2. Her skating skill was not magnificent...but they couldn't "believe it". I TOOK my only child to a skating class at age 4 1/2 with MY 3.0 year old cousin, and the 3.0 did much better than my 4.5. The 3.0 didnt get into private kindergarten at age 5.2 because she was not "socially ready". Every child is different and it DOES depend what the siblings and parents do, if THEY are on the ice every day. NOT all kids are GOING to be potty trained at age 2 either! Just because your was! I wanted to take mine skating cuz it's HOT in Palm Springs/Palm Desert in the summer and skating is INSIDE, out of the sun, good exercise and would be cool and healthy activity...but my 4 .5 wasn't "ready" for the I didn't "make" her. WE have POOLS in Palm Springs everywhere, SO I took her to swim classes at 6 months...she swam in every swim class from guppy to shark!

  13. Great article. I totally agree, Some parents are too impatient. Perfect time is key to getting your child to learn best. Also perfect equipment, Balance Blades are a must. They are New Kids Beginner Skates designed specifically to prevent rear falls. Kids skate safer and sooner. Best of All, Parents save their backs.

  14. I was very pleased to read this article before taking my 3.8 years girl to her first day of ice skating lesson. I am kind of know that she will be completely melt down and scared to be on ice. This article is helpful and help me to prepare. Yes, if she says no, we will sit and watch the class.