Episode #102 – Which extra-curricular activities are important to prioritize?
Question of the Day:
Everything is opening back up again and I am excited but a bit overwhelmed.
I’ve got 3 kids: ages 8, 10, and 13 and all of sudden, there are so many choices! Summer camps, Science camps, Sports camps, Swim Teams, Youth Groups at church, invitations from friends to birthday parties, backyard BBQ’s, camping trips, etc. My head is spinning!
I’ve asked my kids to choose but they don’t seem particularly excited about anything. I want my kids out of the house and off their devices, but they just want to stay home.
How do I prioritize which extra curricular activities are most important? Should I choose something they are good at, or not good at? Should I put them in the same activities or different ones? They lost touch with friends over the pandemic so I can’t just put them into the same activities as their friends because they don’t really have anyone they care about seeing, but they need friends!
I wish this wasn’t my decision. I wish they were showing more initiative but if anything is going to happen, it’s falling on my shoulders.
I’d love your take on how to choose some extra curricular activities so I feel confident I’m doing the right thing for them.
Parent Educator Answer:
I remember feeling stuck in a similar situation when trying to decide the right type of school system for my first-born. I had looked at Waldorf, Montessori, homeschooling, unschooling, Sudbury, Catholic, Private, Charter and public schools. My head was spinning with all the options.
My son was an eager learner. He didn’t need school to teach him things because he was so interested and motivated on his own. Given the choice, he would have opted out of going to school. We contemplated homeschooling but I wanted to be sure. It felt like a lot of pressure sitting on my shoulders to choose a school system that was right for him.
Like you, Cheri, I knew that I would need to feel confident it was the right thing if I was going to drag him out of bed every morning, and listen to him complain about it.
It’s a great question to ask:“How do I prioritize what’s most important when there are so many choices?”
I started with the BIG question: “What’s the meaning of life?”
After much discussion with my husband, we decided that the meaning of life is to EXPERIENCE EXPERIENCES.
If you believe, like I do, that you are a spiritual being having a human experience, the reason for being here is to experience all that life has to offer: The highs, lows, and everything in between. And to be fully present and aware of yourself while you are experiencing it.
To answer your question, “What extracurricular activities are most important?”
Priority #1 Experience contrasting experiences
Priority #2 Help your child feel like part of a larger community.
Priority #3 Look for things your child might be interested in.
Priority #4 Choose something YOU enjoy.
Priority #1 Experiencing Experiences
Kids who are 8, 10, and 13, need to have a variety of experiences to help them learn more about who they are, what they like, and to relate to other people in their community. Let them dabble in competitive sports, creative arts, unstructured summer camps and structured scouting activities.
If the activity is so difficult and uncomfortable that it causes your child to shut down, then they are not getting the benefit of the experience. You want it to be right on the edge of their comfort zone. Different enough to grow the brain, comfortable enough where they can be present to the experience of it.
All kids are going to protest going outside their comfort zone. They may complain and avoid BEFORE going camping with another family because they are wired to seek immediate pleasure and avoid the unfamiliar. You want to watch them AFTER they get back from their camping trip. What’s their demeanor like when you pick them up? If they seem full of life, then it’s a good experience for them.
Priority #2 – Connect to a larger community
The second most important thing to prioritize, in my opinion, is socializing. After a year of social distancing, kids may need to re-learn how to engage with strangers and acquaintances. They will most likely protest this. Choose the activities that will help them feel a part of a larger community.
If you attend church for an hour or so once a week, joining a youth group associated with that church can help them feel connected.
If the whole neighborhood swims at the community pool, consider joining so they feel more connected to the neighbor kids.
If your daughter’s classmates are into competitive dance, it might be worth looking into joining also.
If your daughter’s friends are into dance but your daughter is into geo-caching, helping her find her people and feel a part of that community would be a huge gift to her.
If your son is an artist and loves to create, introducing him to a larger community of artists could give him glimpses into a world he’d like to belong to someday.
Think about helping your children feel a part of a larger community.
Priority #3 – Look for things your child might be interested in.
My daughter was watching a documentary about cleaning up plastics in the ocean and setting up man-made coral reefs and she made an off-handed comment: “I’d like to do that someday.” That was all the fuel I needed! I researched and found this organization where we could do just that!
I wanted her to have this experience to help her decide what she wants to major in, or if she might like to run a non-profit someday, and to meet others who are passionate about helping the environment. So many things one can learn from taking a tiny little interest and experiencing a little bit of it.
The best part of having it be your child’s idea is they can’t argue with it! Even when it’s the night before leaving and she is nervous, feeling very uncertain about what to expect, what to wear, what the other volunteers would be like, she can’t complain because she knows I did it because it was her idea! Even once she has to wash her own dishes, outside, in the dark, she can only complain so much because it was her idea to begin with.
Listen for subtle comments your kids make like, “That looks like fun.” Notice which YouTube channels they watch, which video games they play. Pay attention to when they get jealous of others, what they obsess over, what they yearn for, what they get in trouble for in school. When you pay attention to these important signs then you can choose activities aligned with their interests.
Priority #4 – Choose something YOU enjoy
If your kids aren’t showing interest in anything in particular, it is absolutely ok to choose the activity YOU enjoy, just make sure it’s something you enjoy NOW.
Many parents put their kids into a sport they loved growing up, only to find WATCHING their child play the same sport is TORTURE!
Or they sign up for the local baseball team not realizing how disruptive this sport is to evening routines and family dinners.
It is ok to consider yourself when choosing activities for your kids.
If you love being a part of the swim team community with bingo nights and camping trips, then great! If you love traveling for weekend long volleyball tournaments in other cities, great! Maybe you prefer to sit in your car and read a book for an hour a week while your kids take a gymnastics class, that’s great too!
Just like moms in the animal kingdom, our main goal is to encourage our little chickadees to fly the nest. Our job is to raise adults and every time your child leaves the house to go to the pool, the court, or the dojo, we are doing our job encouraging independence. Everytime your child builds a relationship with a coach, a teacher, or goes on vacation with another family, they are learning that the world is a safe place and that there are many people they can count on.
Life Coaching Answer:
What gets in our way from KNOWING which activities to sign our kids up for?
Our desire to protect them from negative emotions.
Our desire to avoid dramatic pushback and complaining.
Not knowing what WE WANT.
We, also, like to seek immediate pleasure and avoid discomfort. Of course we don’t want to deal with waking them up, getting them off their devices, MAKING them do fun things that are good for them. It’s annoying, but it’s not a reason to avoid doing it.
Our job as moms is to raise adults, experience our own experiences and connect with a larger community. Congratulations, Momma! You are doing it!
You are a part of the Supermom Community! We are all in this together! Forcing our kids to become functioning adults whether they like it or not!
When our kids aren’t excited and leading the way, we can feel a little lost. We spent so many years suppressing our own wants that we don’t even know which activity seems most fun to us.
If you crave alone time, find a “drop off” activity and enjoy the quiet time. If you want to get to know moms in the area, join a family oriented activity like swim team, competitive cheer, or any traveling club-sport team. If you hate driving all over town, choose something nearby with easy carpooling.
If your kids aren’t jumping up and down to try something new, there is no harm in choosing something that works for you.
Supermom Kryptonite – Overscheduling
Now that things are opening back up, be aware of the signs of overscheduling yourself or your kids. Everyone is different. Introverts and Creatives LOVED the mandated lockdown that COVID provided. Extroverted explorers like myself, did not. Stay tuned to your child’s innate personality and what makes them feel fully ALIVE.
If you are an extrovert who loves to learn new things, you might have a hard time understanding a kid who needs time alone in their room to connect to their own ideas and express themselves creatively.
Even if your child is minimally scheduled, having to tag along to run errands, go shopping, and watch big sister practice Taekwondo, can drain a kid’s energy making it harder to experience experiences.
Signs of overscheduled kids are: grumpiness/moodiness, complaining or whining, difficulty entertaining themselves (saying “I’m bored” when they have down time), difficulty falling asleep, getting sick a lot, stomach pains,or headaches.
Try scheduling in “white space” on the calendar. Treat this down time with reverence. Tell your kids this is their “nag free/screen free” time where they get to do whatever they feel like doing. (Make it sound amazing and wonderful so they don’t think it’s punishment). This is YOUR down time, too! Where you will not respond to requests or demands from the children. You get to do whatever you FEEL LIKE DOING IN THE MOMENT. No to-do lists, no agenda, no guilt. If you FEEL like doing laundry, do laundry, but make sure it comes from your inner desires, not external expectations.
Supermom PowerBoost – Let your freak flag fly
In my 20’s I was a bit of a “green meanie.” I cared deeply for the environment and would become sickened at the nonchalant attitude some people had toward something that felt like a real and immediate crisis. I would sort through people’s trash cans, pulling out recyclables, and get sick to my stomach if someone left their engine running while their car was idle. I refused to drink out of styrofoam or plastic bottles even if I was thirsty. I was not a pleasant person to be around.
When my life coach helped me undo my perfectionistic tendencies, I learned hate doesn’t help people to love the earth. I took a break from environmental causes until I could act from a place of love instead of fear. During this time, I became a nicer person to be around. I wasn’t so judgmental or annoyed by others. I learned to go with the flow. I accepted that not everyone feels as strongly about Mother Earth as I do. Socially fitting in was nice!
When my daughter started to become passionate about the environment, I felt this was my opportunity to step back into my passion from a place of love. We started buying bamboo toilet paper, laundry and dishwasher “pods”, sustainably sourced (or second hand) clothing, bar soap instead of liquid, and we reduced our meat consumption by 90%! This all felt pretty good. I was able to be myself without becoming an annoying, judgmental person.
But when I was in Costa Rica, cleaning up trash with other people who were passionate about the environment, it felt AMAZING! I could let my “freak flag fly” without fear of people thinking I was weird. I was with other people who would refuse straws if they were plastic, insisted on bringing reusable take-out containers to restaurants, chose veggies instead of meat because it reduces CO2 emissions, and made sure their sunscreen was reef safe. I felt free to be myself for the first time in a long time.
So when you are looking for extra-curricular activities for your child, try to find a community where they can “let their freak flag fly”.
Ask yourself what is weird about your kid. What aspect of their personality would their peers make fun of? And then, if you can, try and find a community to support THAT and watch your child come ALIVE.
But don’t just focus on your kid, find a community for your own weirdness too. If your son loves competitive cheer, but you don’t enjoy socializing with other moms at loud, overstimulating competitions, be honest. Tell the moms that you’ll be napping in your car between 1-3pm. You might be surprised to find other moms following in your footsteps. Before you know it, you are a leader of a community of introverted cheer moms who nap.