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Guidelines for Parents When Practicing for a Pageant

18, December 2016

“Parents, particularly those involved in children's pageants, often forget that it's just a pageant which can be equated to Little League for boys – a hobby where one learns good sportsmanship, gains self-esteem and most importantly, has fun…”explained Casey McCorquodale, pageant coach. With social media and reality television, we often see the fights over the little league game, the outrage over participation trophies, debates over keeping score, verbal bashing of parents and pageant contestants even of the youngest of ages, kids expressing that it’s no longer fun and they just do it for their parents, and ultimately, parents living vicariously through their children and pushing their kids just a bit too hard. Now, as a teacher and coach, I know this is often coming from a loving place. Aside from not letting your investment go to waste, you want your child to do well and have no regrets.

n my two roles in life, I come at this from two sides. One on hand, “Yes, help your child, of course. Practice, practice, practice.” On the other, “Let them struggle, let them try, let them have fun, and you just watch.”

Catriona Gray Miss Universe 2018 with her pageants. Photo: Catriona Gray Instagram

The Gown

“You feel as good as you look,” is a popular expression. When we look in the mirror and see two new gray hairs in the morning, we begin to wonder what the heck happened to the term “Beauty Sleep”. Some women can pull off the gray hair, but I am not one of them. "When it comes to selecting a gown, the number one thing I tell moms is, ‘No matter how much you want your daughter to wear a certain dress, if she doesn't LOVE it, then don't buy it. She has to feel her most beautiful, most confident in order to truly shine on stage,’” McCorquodale said. Think about this when helping your daughter pick out her pageant gown or son pick out his pageant tuxedo. If you had the choice, would you want gray hair right where everyone can see it? Probably not, as nature chose that for you.

Consider how your kid would feel on stage in an outfit you chose for them that they didn't want.

The Walk

Every girl wants to walk in heels like a “big girl”. The daughter of a co-worker of my Mom’s got her first pair of Mary Jane's with heels when she was around six years old. She wore them to a family dinner. As they were walking toward the restaurant she turned to her mom and said, “Mom, they’re clapping for me,” referring to the sound of her heels clicking on the pavement. “Girls that are pushing into the teen ages should practice in heels whenever possible," said Hester Fletcher of Final Touch Consulting. "One of the biggest problems I see is a girl who cannot walk in heels and walks with bent knees while in heels…” Luckily, I grew up in the late 90's/early 2000's, so the chunky heel was in (and it’s coming back) and I was able to build up my strength and endurance for walking in any heels with more surface area than those of recent trends.

Fletcher added, “I personally called it, ‘putting my daughters in training wheels,’ when they inched toward teenage; I increased the height of her heels until she could walk in anything. “ A few ankle injuries later though and I catch myself doing the “Monster Stomp” after an hour or less in heels. I’m notorious for kicking off my heels and walking barefoot wherever I am because of this. 

“I hear girls often vacuum in heels so that they keep in practice,” Fletcher said. Additionally, you can also take the height and time in the shoes a bit at a time, just like when you are getting used to wearing contacts, so your body can adapt.

Getting a kid to walk in a straight line without turning into a sidewinder can be a true test of patience and coordination.

Try using tape, a road design, or a twist on the childhood games, "Follow the Leader," "Red Light/Green Light," and "Hot Lava" to get your kiddo to go directly to their points and stop. Use your phone to snap pictures of them like the paparazzi so they learn to stop and pose at their dots. To make walking practice more fun, use songs with the word "walk" in them, or walk like different animals and throw in "walk like a pageant contestant" from time to time.

The Talent

Talent can be tricky to navigate in the pageant world. No one wants their daughter to end up doing a performance like Olive in Little Miss Sunshine. But, Olive had something no other contestant had: pride, excitement, and confidence in herself and her talent choice, which is what will truly shine on stage. (Read: Should You Perform a Traditional or Nontraditional Talent?) Deb Sofield of To Coach a Queen is currently working on a book about pageant life. She provides advice about selecting a pageant in her book. "Let her choose," Sofield said. "If you sang a certain song at some point or you’re known for a certain style of dance, great. But now it’s her day.”

While traditions are important, it is more important for your kiddo to be true to themselves. “Maybe everyone in her family sings, ‘Amazing Grace,’ but to stand and deliver at a winning level it has to be her song," Sofield said. "It has to be important to her so that it’ll resonate with the judges.” While you have invested a lot of time and money into the pageant, your kiddo has to be emotionally invested in all areas of competition in order for it to pay off in the long run.

Practicing with Little Ones

“Practicing for a pageant can turn out to be more stressful of an event than it could be if handled improperly,” Fletcher said.

Teaching tiny humans new things can feel like you're trying to teach a fish to fly, but it can also be a lot of fun.

We often hear about the over diagnosis of children with ADD/ADHD. As a teacher, I have had multiple parents question if I felt their child had ADHD because they couldn’t sit still for a long time. While this may be the case for some kids, my response is usually, “No, they’re and it’s perfectly normal. I’ll keep an eye on them for any other signs, though.” As adults, we can zone out on one task for a long period of time. But kids can’t, which can be frustrating for adults when we’re tired and just want to sit in silence for a while and not move. Here is where making sure they are independent and can solve their own problems (which can simply be getting a drink for themselves, by the way) will help you out. "As a guideline, some research suggests using a child’s age as a general starting point for the number of minutes a child can attend to a single assigned task,” according to Day2Day Parenting. Children can focus on one activity that interests them for the following amounts of time. 10 to 15 minutes for five and six-year-olds. If they are uninterested or find it difficult, then 5 to 10 minutes. For six and seven-year-olds, it is up to 30 minutes. Here are some tips to keep you going. The key here is to keep them interested, engaged, and motivated.

Fletcher offered these tips:

1. For a very young child, use dolls and toys to be the judges in front of the modeling area.

2. If there is access to mirrors, have the mirrors in places with pictures of the judges for the child to look at.

3. Have fun with it! Let them draw pictures of the judges. Tape them to the mirrors so they can keep their focus in the direction of the intended judge. This will help with the habit of paying attention to them. 4. Watch for fatigue and stop a session when they become frustrated.

5. Take your turn as well. You model, too, so they can see its nothing you wouldn’t do yourself.

6. Never criticize but use positive reinforcement.

7. If a girl feels that her family is on her side and is her cheerleader no matter the outcome, she will enjoy the practice and will have more excitement on pageant day and it isn’t a chore.

Let Them Do It

“I’ve coached a lot of kids in a lot of sports, but pageants are the one ‘sport’ that I actually witness the light bulb go off that says, ‘Oh yeah, all eyes are on me. It’s time to deliver. It’s time to be the very best me I can be,’” Sofield wrote in her book. Often when I am doing mock interviews with our minor contestants, their parents aren’t far from earshot (which is great). However, this also creates a false sense of security as Mom jumps in when daughter starts to struggle. Unless this is a mother-daughter pageant, she is the contestant, and she is the one being judged. So while she is struggling, she needs to work through it, and she needs to figure it out.

We are coaching our girls to success; we are not directing them.

Just like your GPS may have the best technology, it sometimes cannot find the route and has to recalculate, or gets us totally lost. So, our girls need to be able to guide themselves and get themselves back on track just like we sometimes have to get back to the last known point when following our GPS. Directions have the best intentions, but they aren’t always applicable in all scenarios. Imagine if a baseball coach kept yelling directions at a batter in the top of the 9th of the World Series and it’s a tied ball game. “Pivot, use your hips, eye on the ball, power!” What do you think will happen? Is he focused on the ball? No. He’s focused on his coach giving him directions.

A coach’s job is to give directions and instruct before the game. It is the athlete's job to take that information and apply it during the game.

He’s down in the count 0-2. With the scouting report from the coach, he knows what pitch will probably be coming at him next and, from his lessons in practice, he makes the adjustment. It’s the same in pageantry. You won’t be there to save your kiddo when they start struggling in onstage question or interview. Just like the coach can’t run out and stop the batter from striking out. Let them discover what it feels like to fail a bit. Work out the kinks, give suggestions and examples between practice rounds. Then, they’ll be able to knock it out of the park when all eyes are on them.

Keep in mind, it takes years to develop an athlete, but only a few months to direct a performance.

No Negativity

No matter what happens, when in earshot of your pageant kiddo, never speak negatively of their coach, system, makeup artist, hair stylist, outfits, talent, fellow contestants, and most importantly of them or anything important to them. Be positive at all times; help them, don't hinder them. “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: all you’re meant to be for your daughter is her cheerleader,” Sofield said. Of course, you can do more than that as we have discussed.

“Think of like a sport," Sofield said. "You can hit her a few pop-up fly balls in the backyard by drilling her with practice questions to help her learn from her mistakes. You can be her audience as she rehearsed her ‘talent’, be it listening to ‘Over the Rainbow’ over and over until she hits the notes just right or counting her ball-changes as she tap dances her heart out…Take notes from the sidelines – you’re there as a supporter, a booster and nothing more…you’re mostly there to chauffeur her to participate, you just need to holler, scream, whistle and clap for your girl (and make sure she gets there on time).”

Going Forward

As teachers, coaches and parents, our job is not to tell our children how to solve a problem; our job is to give them the tools necessary to figure out how to solve it on their own. You’ll be amazed at how confident, independent and successful they become as a result when you let them go through the learning process (Bonus, you’ll get some welcomed “me” time). Every pageant contestant will tell you, it wasn’t the crown that mattered, it was the skills they gained and the friendships they made that made the pageant worth it (and knowing how proud of them their parents were).

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