We live in a society where there is pressure to give our kids every possible opportunity and involve them in a million activities. As parents, it is hard to know how much is enough and what is too much.

Activities and sports are great for kids. For instance, research shows that being involved with sports has a very protective effect on girls’ self-esteem, peer relationships and physical and mental health. Boys also clearly derive a lot of benefit from involvement with sports.

At the same time, parents don’t want to spend hours every week driving to and from activities and children need unstructured play time at home, which is also essential to kids’ growth, development and happiness.

How do I decide which activities are right?

  • Start with things that you as a family find interesting. If your family is into sports, try a sport. Love music? Start with music lessons.
  • Try a couple of things in different areas. Team sports are a good start as are creative endeavors like music, art or dance.
  • Let your child tell you what he or she wants to do.

How much should I sign up for? Lessons are expensive!

  • Look for ways to try things out like “bring a friend week” at dance class by asking if you can accompany a friend who is already signed up.
  • Look for short trial periods or classes. Some karate studios have free private lessons to determine if it is a good fit. Over the summer, some of the dance schools have four week blocks of class without having to sign up for 11 sessions.
  • Look for options at local community centers. Often you have to be in line early to get a spot.
  • My rule of thumb is no more than two activities at a time. Two days a week to commit to a class is plenty.

When do I know that it is time to quit an activity?

  • If you get the sense that your child isn’t very enthusiastic, ask their feelings about the activity.
  • I know parents are hesitant to let their children think they can just quit something easily and it is important to teach persistence. However, when kids are young, teaching them that they can try activities out without forcing a long-term commitment is worthwhile.

If my child is good at something, what do we do next?

When a child develops an interest and wants to continue an activity, there are many paths parents can take. For instance, a child playing soccer might be content just to play on a league team for fun. However, another child may express desire to get serious and may benefit from camps or more intensive, competitive training.

Follow your child’s lead. Don’t force a higher level of commitment than the child wants. However, parents may reach a point in some sports where a child has to decide if the extra effort required to be “serious” in the sport is worth the participation. In this case, have an honest conversation with your child about what will be expected if they choose to pursue the activity and help them decide what is best for them.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Eleanor Mackey, PhD, is a child psychologist and works primarily with the Obesity Institute and Children’s Research Institute. Dr. Mackey is also a mother of two girls.

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