All parents have ideas about choosing the “right” activities for their kids. We want them to be successful and happy and many of us want their activities to be attractive to colleges or to be the activities we consider best. But how do you know which extracurricular activities are best for your child? I am happy to have a guest post from Mary Reckmeyer, Ph.D. on this subject. She is the author of Strengths Based Parenting (Gallup Press, February 2016) and the executive director of Gallup’s Donald O. Clifton Child Development Center. Here she explains how you can develop your children’s interest and choose the best activities for kids.
How to Choose the Best Activities for Kids
By Mary Reckmeyer, Ph.D.
The school year is just getting started, and schedules are filling up with activities, homework, and the hustle and bustle ushered in by the fall weather. It’s also the time when we, as parents, can feel pressure to have our kids participate in the “right” activities.
We all have ideas about what we want for our kids. We want them to have the same great experiences we had when we were growing up, and we want them to love those experiences as much as we did. We want them to try new things, and there are so many options to choose from today.
Developing your children’s interests
When choosing activities, instead of pushing your kids to do everything, identify their talents and encourage them to participate in activities that interest them. When kids are successful at what they do, whatever it is, then letting go of other activities they aren’t successful at is easier. And making choices is easier too.
It is important for kids to have a variety of experiences — to try new things — even when those new things are challenging. So go ahead and let your children experience the things you loved, but remember that they might not love the same things you did. Exposure to lots of experiences is great, but your kids might not be good at everything — and they really don’t need to be.
It’s much more important for kids to have opportunities for in-depth exploration and activities that interest them. Knowing a lot about an area or becoming excellent at an activity not only gives kids the confidence to branch out, but it also can lead to other possibilities.
Learning to let go
Maren is a naturally gifted musician. But when she signed up for her high school classes, she didn’t sign up for band. Her mom, who is a band teacher, was beside herself about Maren’s decision. This was not how Maren’s life was supposed to go, according to her mom. Maren was talented and enjoyed music, and now she was letting it go.
Maren rationally explained to her mom that she wouldn’t have time for band and the competitions that went along with it because she was going to dance competitively instead. When her mom suggested she could do both, Maren didn’t want to compromise or let others down by missing practices because of another activity. She felt a deep sense of responsibility.
So Maren’s mom decided to let go of her own dreams of Maren joining the band, and Maren danced her way into the national championships in high school. She plans to dance in college.
Letting kids take ownership
At a recent university track banquet, a mom shared that when her son quit baseball after his junior year in high school, she was devastated. Over the past 12 years, he had played competitively, and his parents had spent lots of time, money and sweat equity on baseball. And now — now he wanted to quit the sport they saw for his future. He wanted to run instead.
He ran cross-country and track events in his senior year, which is why they were at the college track banquet. He ended up attending the university on a track scholarship.
How can you choose the best activities for your kids?
Figuring out our kids’ activities can be emotional for us as parents because we want our children to have positive experiences that will turn into great memories. Here are some suggestions for how to develop your children’s interests and choose the best activities for kids:
- Encourage different experiences and activities, but don’t expect your kids to be good at — or like — all of them.
- Instead of trying to do it all, let your kids get really good at something that interests them. Their success in an area that appeals to them will boost their confidence and motivate them to explore other options.
- Sometimes we have preconceived notions of who we think our kids are. Instead, see your kids as unique individuals, and learn to appreciate who they are. Encourage them to participate in what they’re good at, and let them discover their passions.
- Let kids take ownership of their activities, and respect their decisions. They need to be able to fail — or even quit — without being afraid of failing or not meeting someone else’s expectations.
I hope you found this article helpful in choosing the best activities for kids. What are your child’s innate strengths?