Too Invested in Your Child’s Activities and Performance?

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Synopsis

How involved should parents be in their children’s activities? Young and aspiring artists, musicians, athletes, and scholars experience challenges as they strive to achieve. So, what comprises too much or too little parental involvement? What’s just right? Here are some guidelines.

It’s wonderful to see parents supporting their children’s creativity, interests, and aspiration. Parents who are extremely busy with their own lives and jam-packed agendas make it a priority to attend events and recitals, drive kids to practices at all hours, track down equipment, and cheer on teams. This kind of energy and commitment boosts and validates kids’ efforts, promotes parent-child connectivity, and builds momentum.

So what’s the problem?

It’s a hectic world. Everyone in the family participates in different activities and goes every which way, morning, noon, and night. Time is at a premium, and it‘s difficult to maintain a reasonable pace. Sometimes kids’ programs—and the assorted practicalities—are overwhelming. This can be off-putting and discouraging. And it can disrupt family harmony. Moreover, parents often wonder what to do if their child gets frustrated, or can’t keep up with the demands or competitive aspects of a particular learning or recreational program. Should parents intervene? How can they keep things together and still nurture their children’s activities in reassuring, supportive, and healthy ways? Here are some suggestions.

Maintaining Family Harmony

When your kids express a desire to participate in activities and extracurricular programs, it’s helpful to start by thinking about the best balance of time, energy, and commitment—for each of them, for you, and for anyone else in the family who might be affected. If you don’t know, get everyone together and chat about it. Be patient, and be prepared to listen, and compromise.

The truth is that some families function well together as they sift through learning opportunities, creative possibilities, and program options, and as they work through logistics for each person, negotiate with one another, and make decisions. However, other families find it quite challenging to deal with all of this. Plus there may be scheduling conflicts, monetary requirements, and other considerations. Also, some kids are amenable to making concessions or to juggling their many commitments, whereas others are unyielding and dig in their heels if they can’t get what they want, when they want it. Sometimes the biggest obstacle is trying to avoid power struggles and confrontations. Unfortunately, these can destabilize plans and relationships. Here are three tips for parents:

  1.   Don’t allow yourself to be baited and drawn into a non-productive argument. If need be, take time to collect your thoughts and let emotions subside.
  2.   Be respectful. Aim for two-way communication with your child, and use a measured tone of voice. Don’t leave the air tense; remain open to further dialogue.
  3.   Be fair. If you set limits, rules, or expectations (in relation to activities or anything else), make sure they’re reasonable or you’ll undercut your credibility.

Parents may have to step back a little from the family’s front lines—including daily hassles—in order to acquire fresh perspectives, and to be ready to work together on the practicalities of enabling kids to engage meaningfully in activities.

Working Out Practicalities

When a child displays interest in an activity (such as choir, photography, karate, sculpting, or whatever), some planning is inevitable. For example, arrangements might have do with registration, transportation, equipment, practice times, and so on. Many parents will take the reins and work everything out to their satisfaction, leaving very little left for anyone else to do. It’s better, however, to encourage kids to take some initiative and get involved in the planning. This will serve as incentive, and will increase their accountability and commitment.

Except what if things take a downward turn once a child has embarked on an activity? For example, perhaps the guitar is not the right instrument, soccer is too rough, diving is too competitive, or figure skating is too difficult. Reinforce kids as they give an activity their best shot—yet be amenable to change. Who among us hasn’t experienced a change of mind? But when the status quo gets shaken up, what can parents do? Here are three suggestions:

  1.   Don’t hover, intervene too hastily, or try to solve every glitch or eventuality. It’s better to allow children to experience consequences, and to take some responsibility for turning things around. They will learn resilience, and gain independence.
  2.   Tell kids how you’ve overcome obstacles, or taken a creative approach, or effectively used resources or support systems—and be available to answer questions, if they ask.
  3.   Stay calm. It doesn’t serve any purpose to get riled or upset. Together, and with composure, develop a new plan, routine, or way to move forward.

Sometimes kids will decide to stick with an activity they’ve embarked upon, and other times a sensible change is the way to go. Parents’ responses can make a difference, helping a child to feel more positive while weighing alternatives, making decisions, and arriving at satisfying outcomes.

Knowing How to Respond

We’ve all seen parents attending children’s concerts, art shows, science fairs, or sporting events, showing excitement about a performance and pride in their child’s success. However, it’s also important to support kids’ collaboration, determination, and achievements. To that end, parents might want to keep in mind how they convey praise. Not – “You’re the BEST player!” or “Your picture is the prettiest!” or “You’re SO smart!” but rather “That was a great team effort!” or “Such a creative use of vibrant colors!” or ”I’m proud that you were able to work your way through challenges and accomplish what you did!”

Know your child, listen and observe, and read the signs. When kids are excited about trying something, you can nurture it by focusing on the small steps, and on their involvement. When they’re happily engaged, their interest will be sustained, and they will stay motivated. Otherwise an activity or program may become stressful for them—and, ultimately, for the rest of the family. The key is for parents to be flexibly responsive as their children’s interests change and develop, and as unexpected circumstances arise. Here are three considerations for parents of kids embarking upon various activities:

  1.   Be respectful of your children’s preferences and capabilities. Don’t try to control their choices or manipulate outcomes.
  2.   Address issues or concerns one at a time. Be constructive, not critical. Encourage and empower.
  3.   Look at the broader picture. Decisions can be revisited. Kids’ engagement in activities need not be rigidly enforced. Change offers a learning curve and new opportunities. No-one stands still forever.

Kids are primed to experience the world in exciting ways. However, each child and set of circumstances differs, each family circle is unique, and each activity has its own dynamic. Parents are well positioned to offer children support, guidance, and reinforcement, yet parental involvement in children’s activities has to be both targeted and tempered. It’s important for parents to pay attention to family harmony, practicalities, and responses. The tips noted here represent a proactive, respectful, and sensible start to doing just that.

Additional Resources

Beyond Intelligence: Secrets for Raising Happily Productive Kids by Dona Matthews and Joanne Foster, House of Anansi Press, 2014 (see pp. 167-174 for specifics on extracurricular activities); Being Smart about Gifted Education: A Guidebook for Educators and Parents by Dona Matthews and Joanne Foster, Great Potential Press, 2009.   www.beyondintelligence.net

Joyful Courage Parenting Podcast with Casey O’Roarty and guest Dr. Joanne Foster – October, 2016 – focusing on parents’ experiences and concerns relating to children’s extracurricular activities. (Thanks, Casey! Your thought-provoking interview questions inspired me to write this follow-up article.) Listen to the podcast at HERE 

 In “Parenting for Intelligence and Success” (published at Psychology Today), Dr. Dona Matthews draws on educational psychology, and discusses 18 important principles to help kids thrive at school and elsewhere. 

The Lure of Kids’ Extracurricular Activities: The Impact, and Answers to Parents’ Questions” at The Creativity Post

On her website The New Family, Brandie Weikle features informative podcasts featuring experts who discuss topics having to do with modern views on family life, including how to juggle the many demands. http://www.thenewfamily.com (And, here’s the link to episode #36: "A New Way of Thinking about Intelligence for a New World")

Tags: creativity, education, extracurricular programs, joanne foster, psychology

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