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Matching extracurricular activities to your child's personality

Tiernan McKay is a freelance writer based in Denver, Colorado. Her writing has appeared in magazines such as Alive!, Occupational Health and Safety, Restaurants and Institutions, Tampa Bay and Arizona Woman. Right now, she is either ridi...

A parental balancing act

Many parents have a love-hate relationship with extracurricular activities. While they certainly provide opportunities for children to expend energy, tap into creativity and explore various interests, they can also be a source of contention and strife.
Little girl playing tennis

Parenting can be described as a great balancing act in more ways than one. This truth is especially evident when choosing extracurricular activities for children.

Some parents feel the need to balance their child’s desires with their aptitude and personality, but is that really the best course of action?

A healthy goal

Today’s parents can easily be overwhelmed by the number of extracurricular activities available for their children. While these activities can teach valuable lessons in socialization, commitment, respect for authority, physical fitness and scheduling, they can also cause a lot of emotional stress if not approached with the right mindset. “Parents must always be aware of choosing extracurriculars with their children, not for their children,” says Bonnie Harris, M.S.Ed., director of Connective Parenting and author of several parenting books including Confident Parents, Remarkable Kids: 8 Principles for Raising Kids You'll Love to Live With. “Parents tend to think that they know better and will sign a child up only to regret it — especially if they project their own past experiences onto their children.”

Read about avoiding activity overload for your kids >>

Time to explore

There’s no better time than childhood to explore a variety of extracurriculars before narrowing in on a “favorite” sport, hobby or activity. If your child is interested in something completely out of their (or your) comfort zone, allowing him to explore the path may produce valuable life lessons. “Parents need to honor the child's choices and understand that they might change their minds halfway in,” says Harris. “So if the child wants to try an expensive activity, it is important for the parent to go over the rules. If it means the child must see it to the end, this must be agreed on at the beginning.”

Find out if your kids are overscheduled >>

Strike a balance

If you are sure you see a mini Serena Williams in your daughter but she isn’t interested in tennis, pushing her into the sport will probably end poorly (if not painfully). “A parent can point out the child's strengths and offer suggestions for activities that complement those strengths, but the final decision must be up to the child,” says Harris. Keep in mind, your child doesn’t necessarily have to excel in an activity to glean valuable lessons. Oftentimes, failure (or even mediocrity) can build character just as easily as victory.

Read about teaching kids to handle failure >>

The comfort zone

Once a child is old enough to weigh the pros and cons of a decision, he really should be given the opportunity to choose extracurricular activities while parents influence and guide the process. What do you do if your child is absolutely set on signing up for an activity which, in your opinion, is diametrically opposed to his personality? “If the child wants this, the child is saying, 'I want to stretch my limits and try something I don't feel competent at doing,'” says Harris. “I believe above all else, this determination should be honored.” Of course, on occasion, kids make bad decisions or are influenced by their friends. Rather than turn this situation into an argument, allow it to serve as a teaching opportunity.

More about extracurricular activities

How to help your kids hone an extracurricular activity
4 Tips for balancing budgets and extracurricular activities
Team sports: How kids benefit from organized athletics

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