Extra curricular activities are very important in teaching your child many of life’s most important lessons. Every child should have at least one activity outside of school, whether it’s sports, a creative pursuit, a group like scouting, or any other of the vast variety of activities available today. Every community has resources when it comes to giving children healthy outlets outside of school, television, and video games. So finding the right activities, and knowing how to use them to empower your child can be tricky.
The issues when deciding activities for your child to be involved in:
When parents make the choice for the child and insist that the child participate in activities that they don’t want to be involved with, they take away an important experience from their child. Billy shouldn’t have to play soccer just because your bosses son does and it’s the “hot” sport at your child’s school. It’s much better to find out what Billy wants, what natural talents he seems to have and what interests and encourage him from that point.
Over scheduling children to the point that they don’t have enough down time to just play and be a kid can leave your child stressed and under achieving. More and more children are ending up with anxiety disorders because they aren’t able to keep up on everything. Slow down and only do activities that can comfortably fit in with the child’s overall schedule. Children and teens need nine to ten hours of sleep a night to be fully effective and to allow for growth and hormonal changes. So make sure your child’s schedule has time where they can fulfill their sleep requirements as well.
The parent excelled at something and expects their child to pick up that same activity and excel in it as well, but it’s not a good fit. For example, Joe was the High School football star, so he focuses on creating that same goal for little Johnny. Regardless of Little Johnny’s feelings about it, Joe continues to push Johnny and that can go several ways. If Johnny does have the “football gene” and a great time is had by all. Otherwise, Johnny may rebel against feeling pushed into something he’s not passionate about, which causes obvious problems,. Or, he will go along with his father’s wishes, but end up with low self esteem and low self confidence because he isn’t going to reach that standard that his father feels so strongly about.
The parent had unrealized dreams or wishes and transfers those to their child, but it’s not the child’s dreams or wishes. In this example we’ll say Mary always wanted to be a ballerina. For whatever reason, her dreams of this were not realized. She is going to make sure Little Suzy is given every opportunity to become the ballerina that Mary always wanted to be. So, she puts Little Suzy in the classes and focuses on how Little Suzy is going to be star of the Nutcracker someday. This keeps Little Suzy from realizing her true dreams and wishes and important opportunities go to waste.
The child is interested in something that seems unappealing to the parent, so the parent refuses to support them. This is probably the worst issue when it comes to children and activities. A child really needs to feel supported for their own unique dreams, regardless of what anyone thinks.
What if Little Johnny is the one that wants to dance and Little Suzy wants to become a sports star instead? He may very well be the next Patrick Swayze. Or, what if these children end up resenting something that they may have enjoyed better if they were allowed to find it and pursue it on her own terms? Many a child has walked away from an activity because the parent pushed too hard. The child will then resist many other activities that could’ve been a wonderful experience for them. They may end up feeling like something is wrong with them because they don’t feel the same way their parents do, or they may miss out on something that they could’ve truly shined at.
So, what are the best ways to empower your child through extra curricular activities?
By all means, encourage them to try everything. If a child seems unsure, have them give it a try to find out for sure whether they like it or not. It’s important to have guidelines with this though. For example, if they join a sport, they have to finish the season. After that they can opt to continue or not, but they can’t drop out halfway. This is very important in teaching follow-through, commitment and discipline.
Encourage them to try many activities. If they are in a sport and love a sport, that’s great, allow them to continue that and choose something during the off season. Creativity is absolutely one of the most important things you can teach your child, so find a variety of creative outlets and allow your child to pick one at a time to try on for size. Again, make the agreement that whatever they start, they need to commit to a reasonable amount of time to give it a fair chance. Make that agreement with your child in advance so they know what is expected.
Keep a list of on going activities for them to choose from. Encourage them to do things outside their realm, don’t insist, but encourage and see if they’ll at least give it a try. Some children find the thing they didn’t think they would like ends up being a lifelong passion, but they won’t know if they don’t try.
If you feel strongly that your child would excel in something that they seem hesitant on, there is nothing wrong with making a deal with the child that if they’ll at least try it, then you’ll do something for them that they want. Make sure that you allow them to drop that activity after the reasonable amount of time though even if you wish they wouldn’t. They’ll be more apt to be open to picking it back up someday if you allow them to feel that it’s their own choice. Make sure you are reasonable about that too. If they aren’t in agreement after you’ve tried to bargain with them, drop it and move on to something else.
Keep a good balance. Sports, creative outlets, and social groups are all important. Try to find a mix of these activities to help your child created a well rounded lifestyle. Again, allow them to choose which ones, set the appropriate boundaries and if they decide it’s not for them, allow them to find something else to do. If it’s something they absolutely do NOT want to do, don’t force them, but perhaps find something else similar for them to try. For example, if you are hoping to see Little Billy pursue something that will help with his coordination and movement, he may absolutely NOT want to take dance lessons. Martial arts would give him most of the same benefits, so see if he’ll give that a try instead.
Perhaps your child is sedentary, or extremely shy, and they don’t want to do anything. It’s fair to tell them to find one thing that they need to do. but let them choose which thing it is. Or, perhaps your child wants to do everything. Let them, as long as you can handle the parental commitments each activity expects, and your child is still able to keep up on school work and not stress out about doing too much. I say let them go for it! It’s much better than if they become bored and start finding more unsavory activities to keep them occupied. If it does get to be too much, work with them on prioritizing and have them switch activities around, say music lessons in the summer and not during the sports season. That way they can still do it all without becoming over loaded.
If you need help finding things to do, contact your local YMCA, Scouts, Community Centers, art programs, and nature centers. If you can’t find a specific activity that your child would really like, start a group yourself! There are people who would be happy to volunteer their time and expertise to help you.