Helping Your Child Choose Activities: A How-To Guide

Mommy and Me Music. Tiny Tot Soccer. Baseball, basketball, orchestra, dance, art classes, chess club.

It seems there are more opportunities than ever for kids to participate in extra curricular activities from a very young age. These activities can be a wonderful way for your child to learn new things and make new friends, but with so many options, how do you know which ones are right for your child?  (Assuming your child isn’t old enough to tell you themselves.)

Here’s how our family handles extracurricular activities:

It’s Not About You

I cannot stress this point enough. It’s common for parents to have preconceived expectations when it comes to their kids’ extracurriculars. These are usually based on our own interests and experiences.
 
Sometimes kids do naturally gravitate towards what their parents expect. If they don’t, however, try to honor your child’s wishes even if they are different from what you want. This can be challenging if you have your heart set on sharing a lifelong interest with your child. But when you let go of your expectations and embrace your child’s authentic interests, you show them you truly understand and appreciate their unique personality. This is one of the greatest gifts you can give your child.
 
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Follow Their Interests

Our 12-year-old has been obsessed with trains since he was two and discovered Thomas. Over the years, this fascination evolved from playing with his favorite toys, into model railroad construction, into studying the history of the railroad in the US. Now that he’s old enough, he will participate in the Hawkeye Model Train club at the Johnson County Historical Society.
 
Even though this fascination with trains was foreign to us (see above), my husband and I nurtured his enthusiasm for the railroad. We’ve visited train museums on vacations. We’ve purchased books and magazines about model trains, and we’ve sought out others who share his interests.
 
One of the most rewarding parts of parenting is watching your kids discover who they are and what they’re passionate about. Choosing the right activities for your child is a wonderful way to nurture and share their interests with them. 
 
 

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Give it Time

Parents have been conditioned to think kids need to be signed up and scheduled from the time they’re born. But I promise you, your child will not suffer if they aren’t in Tiny Tot sports or Mommy and Me music at a very young age. If your child doesn’t show an interest in organized activities when they’re in preschool or elementary school, that’s okay. When they get older they’ll have plenty of opportunities to try new things. In fact, waiting might increase their chance of finding activities that are authentic to who they are.

Our oldest didn’t participate in a single organized activity until he was nine. He’s in 8th grade now, and he writes for the school newspaper, attends art club, and participates in his school’s Gay-Straight Alliance group. (In fact, he will be visiting Des Moines in February to meet with legislators about LGBT issues.)

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Encourage Them to Try…

It’s normal for kids to be nervous or scared when they try something new. Talk through their fears, comfort them as best you can, and encourage them to give it a try. If they do find the activity enjoyable, it could be a lesson in conquering their fears and build confidence for the future. 
 

…But Let Them Quit

Though it’s important to encourage a child to face nerves or fear, it’s also important to let them quit if they’re miserable. It’s not worth it to force a child into an activity that’s not a good fit for them. Demanding a child continue with something they dislike is not only stressful for the child, but might discourage them from trying something else down the road.
 
How do you determine when it’s time to quit? This can be tricky, especially if you’ve made a non-refundable investment in lessons or special equipment.
 
With our kids, if there was a natural stopping point (like the end of a session) we would encourage them to finish a session if they weren’t too miserable. With non-session based activities (such as orchestra) we tried to find an appropriate stopping point (after a concert, for example.) We felt this approach was a nice balance between making them see the commitment through, but also honoring their feelings.

One of the most rewarding parts of parenting is watching your kids discover who they are and what they’re passionate about. Choosing the right activities for your child is a wonderful way to nurture and share their interests with them. 

How do you approach activity participation in your family?
 

 
 

 

 
 
 
Meghann is the mom of 5 kids. She is a Lecturer at the University of Iowa School of Journalism and Mass Communication and an Owner/Partner at Brand Driven Digital. Meghann was elected to the Coralville City Council in 2017 and is currently serving her first term. She serves on the Board of Directors of the Coralville Community Food Pantry (Vice-Chair) and on the DVIP Board of Directors. She is also a member of Johnson County's Juvenile Justice and Youth Development Policy Board. Meghann is passionate about her family, her community, and is a proud pop culture nerd.

1 COMMENT

  1. Our rule of thumb is no more than two activities at a time per kid. That way we aren’t crazy running kids around and we make sure they’re really doing something they enjoy instead of just signing up for everything!

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