“Participating in some form of extracurricular activity is absolutely critical for kids,” says Nigel Burton, American football commentator for the Pac-12 television network and former coach for the Portland State Vikings college football team. “It doesn’t have to be every day and it doesn't have to be a sport, but I’ve always felt that doing things outside of school and working in a team setting was instrumental to a child’s growth and development.”
But what may have seemed like a terrific idea to your kids a few weeks ago may now be the cause of after-school tears and complaints. As a parent, it is no easy task to discern if the reluctance is due to nerves or a genuine dislike of the activity.
No matter the age of your child, it is challenging to know how to handle every situation. Let’s examine a few ideas that may help your reluctant offspring bounce back and enjoy their extracurricular activities.
When to enforce participation
Depending on how far along you are in the school year, it might be worth a conversation with your child about the importance of giving something a chance. Let them know they can choose a different activity the following season if they still don’t like it.
“If your child wants to quit, encourage them to see it through to the end of the season,” Nigel Burton recommends. It’s important to have a conversation in the beginning of the season to set expectations. Your child should have an understanding about what it is to be committed to something. They need to learn how to push themselves through challenges because they will face difficult times in life, and perseverance is a good life skill to cultivate at a young age.”
When to allow a break
This strategy may be most effective with younger children, particularly if this is their first introduction to team-oriented activities. Give them the opportunity to sit on the bench or sidelines while they watch kids their age have fun. Once they realize they are missing out, they may want to dive right in. It will also give them a chance to feel more comfortable in their new setting if they can see a class or game before participating.
“This approach is also useful when helping your child find a passion. They’ve got to be exposed to a variety of things to see what grabs their attention,” says Nigel Burton.
When to consider quitting
After-school and extracurricular activities should be a fun experience that kids look forward to, not something that causes distress or fear. If you find that your child’s reluctance is not waning after a few months of trying the activity, it may be time to think about switching them to something else that more closely matches their personality, physical ability and interests.
The time to experiment with different activities is when children are young, resilient, forgiving and willing to try anything. When you finally do discover something they love, encourage them to participate. Children who participate in sports or other extracurricular activities typically do well in school, have greater self-esteem, sleep well and have fewer behavioral issues. They also tend to be more physically fit, have fewer health problems and grow to become healthy adults.
“While I always encourage extracurricular activities, it’s important that kids don’t get over-scheduled,” says Nigel. “They’ve got to be able to take some kind of a brain-break—especially as they get older. It’s about finding a healthy balance between having fun with your sport or activity, commitment and carving out some time to relax, be a kid and enjoy other experiences as well.”
As your children continue to grow, their skills, confidence and excitement for the activity or activities will grow as well. Subscribe to our newsletter for more tips on developing healthy behaviors in your children!