An Activity that’s a Match!

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Read up to discover how BEST to find the perfect activity for your child.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, there’s a strong association between kids’ participation in extra-curricular activities and academic success. But finding an activity, club or sport that fits your child can sometimes be a tricky matter. Just about every mom can attest to the frustration of trying to convince a child to practice an instrument or do his best work for a club project that doesn’t interest him. So, there’s nothing like having a child approach an activity with enthusiasm and self-motivation.

Want to see more enthusiasm and less frustration from your child? Here, we answer some of your biggest challenges in helping your child discover his own free-time activity:

How do you know when to push your child to continue at an activity that he’s asked to stop, and when to let him quit?

A lot will depend on knowing your child. If he’s prone to quitting easily, then it may be time to dig in your heels — but first, ask why he doesn’t want to do it anymore and address any issues he’s having that may be causing him to want to quit.

Otherwise, if your child isn’t engaged in the activity or developing any skills at it, then don’t push him to continue. After two or three seasons of a sport or a year of a different kind of activity, your child will have mastered the basics and should be ready to learn and grow. If he’s not interested, this won’t happen no matter how much you push. He’ll just be miserable and could grow to like it even less.

“The important thing is to leave doors open,” says David Elkind, author of The Power of Play: Learning What Comes Naturally (Da Capo Press, Reprint Edition; 2007) and The Hurried Child: Growing Up Too Fast Too Soon (Da Capo Press, 25th Anniversary Edition; 2006). “Kids are young. They need to experiment.”

Some circumstances may warrant a “keep at it until …” This works when you want your child to stick out a commitment or stay with an activity long enough to master a specific skill. For example, if your goal for piano lessons is for your child to read music, then communicate that to him. Explain that you’d like him to continue piano until he gets through a specific performance book.

Elkind suggests parents “realize that because a child doesn’t take to something right away doesn’t mean he will never learn commitment, only that he needs to find the right thing to be committed to.”

What signs can you look for that indicate an activity or sport isn’t the right match for your child? How about when it’s a good match?

When the activity isn’t a good fit, your child may protest at going to lessons or practices. He’ll give a half-hearted effort toward it. Or, on the other end of the spectrum, he may be giving it his best, but never getting the hang of it. Then it may be time to take a break from that activity. Or, you may need to find a different instructor or coach whose style better suits your child. If he’s excited about a sport, but doesn’t have the aptitude, maybe he could try a supporting role, such as team manager.

When you find a good match (between activity and/or instructor) things will click. Your child will look forward to participation. You’ll notice improvement or development. And more than likely your child will engage in the activity on his own as well — shooting baskets in the driveway or reading books on robotics in his spare time.

For Gretchen Desch, whose daughter Jenny became an avid swimmer after dabbling in other sports, the difference became noticeable.

“She’s the one to say, ‘It’s time to leave for practice,’” says Desch. “She has ownership of that.”

If you haven’t found a match yet it’s important to keep on looking. Making a child stick with a sport he’s no good at can cause his confidence to falter and prevent him from finding what he does enjoy.

And don’t always assume your non-athletic child is getting exercise by being on a team. Coaches will tell you uninterested players often put forth a minimal amount of effort. Better to get him into a physical pastime he likes where he’ll pour on the steam.

“The most effective strategy is to support your child’s natural interests, even if it’s not what you would like him to do,” says Elkind.

It can also help to have an outsider’s perspective on your child. If a teacher or coach comments to you on an ability he sees in your child, encourage him to tell the child directly. The external push may be all it takes.

Is it ever too late for my child to start a sport or a hobby? I’m afraid if we don’t get him started young, he’ll never catch up to his peers.

Few sports are age dependent, however competitive sports demand early training these days. If you’re little one is begging to start with soccer, by all means let him. Keep in mind though that kids need exposure to lots of things, not just sports, and that overexposure in the early years can lead to burn out.

“There’s so much for young children to learn in so many areas,” says Elkind. “There’s no evidence necessarily that starting early has special benefits.”

So let your child lead. Is he interested in building with toy bricks? Take him to the school or the library’s LEGO club. Is there an interest in Cub Scouts or Girl Scouts? Sign ’em up. If you’re pushing your child to start something before he’s ready, it may work out. But his lack of readiness also has the potential to hurt his chances of succeeding.

Remember the ultimate goal of free-time activities is enjoyment. If you’re too worried about your child finding success, you’re both missing out on the fun.

“Kids are who they are. All you can do is encourage them to bring out the best they can be,” says Desch.

Prompt your child to explore his world and test his interests — and enjoy the exploration with him. You may find a new hobby or sport to share that you weren’t even thinking of!

 

Help For Reluctant Kids

  • Sign up with a friend.
  • Praise effort, not achievement. “Many times children who are afraid to try new things have been overly praised for doing one thing,” says Elkind, “and are afraid they will not do as well on the next.”
  • Search for smaller group settings.

Lara Krupicka is a freelance writer, mom of three girls, and author of "Family Bucket Lists: Bring More Fun, Adventure, and Camaraderie Into Every Day" (Wordcrafter Communications; 2013).

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