By Kristen Havey, Contributing writer
My daughter used to be involved in quite a lot of extracurricular activities. At one time, she was doing dance, gymnastics, running, and playing tee-ball – and it seemed like all her school-age peers were doing the same. Extracurriculars do provide a ton of benefits for children, so it’s no wonder that many parents want to make sure their kids get involved. But too much is, well, too much.
All children have different strengths, varying levels of comfort and anxiety, and it’s important to listen to them when deciding what’s right for them. When my daughter was busy with all of those activities, she was exhausted and often complained of not wanting to even attend her extracurriculars. We couldn’t even determine which activities she actually enjoyed because she seemingly hated all of them. Really, she was just overwhelmed.
I soon realized that she just didn’t have much downtime and that I had been undervaluing the importance of unstructured time for her. It turned out that she only disliked all of those extracurriculars because what she really wanted was time to read with me, or play dolls in her room, or just relax at home.
All families need to navigate this in a way that’s best for them, but our solution was that she should limit herself to one exercise-based activity per season and, if she wanted to, she could also choose a hands-on activity, like pottery class. But that would be our limit. You have to figure out what’s best for your own child, but the following are some tips that I’ve found beneficial when navigating extracurriculars with own daughter. Finding some sort of balance is key, and here is what works for us:
Start the conversation
Talk to your children. What do they want to play or attend? What do they know about that activity? Why do they want to be involved? Show them videos of sports or activities that they might not be familiar with. Take them to watch a soccer game or try out a pottery class. I personally found that my daughter’s dad and I were suggesting a lot of activities that we had experience with. But my daughter had ideas of her own, and by listening to her, she opened up our eyes to opportunities that we hadn’t even considered.
Many children are anxious about trying a new activity with a group of kids that they’re unfamiliar with. So if they’re able to check out a new activity with a friend, it can make them feel that much more confident. One familiar face can be a game changer when it comes to taking risks or being comfortable asking questions. I found that my daughter felt a lot more comfortable and a lot less in the spotlight when she signed up for basketball with a friend. She also always had a partner for court drills – no pressure there!
Ask your children how things are going. What specifically do they like about their activity? What things aren’t going well and why? Frequent check-ins will ensure that everyone is on the same page and that your kids are in activities that they want to be in, not activities where they just go through the motions in order to please. How might you know if the activity isn’t working out? You might notice that your child seems distracted during their activity. You might also observe – or your child might tell you – that they are having a lot of trouble keeping up. Often times, kids will even just come out and tell you that they’re not enjoying themselves anymore. But it’s not the end of the world! From lacrosse to coding, there are so many other fun options out there! Observe your child’s strengths. Start a conversation about new desires, then choose something new to try as a team.
Read your child
Have they been sleeping well? Is their homework being completed on time? Check in with teachers. How is your son or daughter doing? There is often a fine line between involved and exhausted. Where does your child fall on this spectrum? If your child seems to be doing too much, you may need to limit or adjust the number of activities that they’re involved with. As a parent, I am always on the run! I definitely need to remind myself that my child is only nine and that her needs and limits are much different than mine.
Lead by example
What are you passionate about? What are you doing to exercise these passions? It’s easier to encourage your children to be involved if they can look to you as an example of someone who is pursuing their own passions. And is there a passion that you and your child share? Maybe you can join a book club together or train for your first race as a team. My daughter and I run together, and it’s something extremely special that we share.
Spoiler alert – this is not a competition! You are not more or less amazing because of the number of activities that your child is involved in. They will not be more or less successful as adults based on the activities they choose at age eight. Sports and other extracurricular activities undoubtedly teach important lessons: teamwork, creativity, compassion, drive. But it’s our job as parents to educate the whole child. So be your child’s number one cheerleader. Be their best coach. Never lose sight of what is important, and always lend an ear to your child’s needs. Our goal as parents is to raise caring, responsible children. How exactly our kids get there – and the extracurriculars they participate in along the way – is trivial.
About the author
Kristen Havey has been a special education teacher for the past decade and her daughter’s biggest fan for just as long. Kristen runs mountains, trails, and roads in her spare time. She also loves hiking and the ocean. She is a master of multitasking and always hungry for her next adventure.