Sports and extracurricular activities are a wonderful way for your children to make friends, improve their social skills, and learn to set personal goals. These days there are seemingly endless options to pick from – and finding the right one can greatly impact the quality of the experience. But how do you know which activity is right for your child? We’ve got a few steps to help you navigate the decision making process.
Start the Conversation
The first step is to talk with your child about their likes and dislikes. If they’re old enough and able, let them express themselves about what they enjoy doing and then look for a club, class or team that allows them to use those skills. You can also talk with their teacher or daycare provider, who can expound on your child's talents and observed character traits. Are they always running for the art supplies? Maybe they could use some help learning to share. Shoshana Dayanim, PhD, a contributor to Care.com, suggests examining both your child’s strengths and weaknesses, as the right extracurricular activities can help them improve both. What they excel at is just as important as what they need to work on.
Dig a Little Deeper
Next, start doing your research. Check out what activities your local community center and your child’s school have to offer. Parenting groups, and of course, the Internet, are also valuable resources to find out what activities your city and the surrounding communities may have available. You can present the choices to your child and get their input if they’re old enough to communicate it. Don’t be afraid to try something outside the box.
Once you’ve narrowed it down to a few options, call and ask questions or even request to have coffee or a meeting with a coach, dance teacher, etc. to get to know them; after all, they’ll be spending a significant amount of time with your child. You know to trust your gut, so don’t ignore your impressions of them. Tour their facilities and don’t hesitate to ask them about their group’s performance record: you want your child to have the best chance at success, right? They can also give you a complete rundown of all costs involved so you can examine them against your budget. Talk to other parents for their opinions and experiences as well.
Consider the Commitment
You don’t have eight arms and legs, and sleep is still essential. So, before making a final decision, consider your child’s schedule as well as your own. Factor in school, homework, your job (whether it’s in the home or out of it) and that of your partner to make sure nothing and no one will feel neglected. You want your child to be exposed to as many new things as possible, but you don’t want them to be overwhelmed, or to stretch yourself too thin running all over town.
Keep Health a Priority
A sport or activity can go from fun to scary in a flash if your child gets hurt. Keep them off the sidelines and in the game by checking in with your child’s primary care physician before signing up for sports or any other physical activity. Looking for any pre-existing conditions, giving them a proper physical and filling you in on all the necessary precautions will ensure your child remains safe and healthy in whatever activity they choose.
Set Realistic Expectations
Once you settle on an activity, remember the process may end up being trial and error. Another suggestion from Dr. Dayanim is to sign up for a class with one of your child’s friends, if they seem nervous. As the weeks go by, make sure to talk with them about it and encourage them to be honest; it may take trying a few things to find the right fit. It can be tough, but you also have to put aside your own feelings about your child following a hobby you pursued growing up. You may have loved ballet, hockey or playing the piano, but the truth is, they may want nothing to do with those things, so don’t force it. Watching your kids excel at something they’re truly passionate about will be so much more rewarding in the end.
Blogger Allyson Reynolds expounded on this topic on the blog Power of Moms, saying, “Don’t get too comfortable with the idea of creating little clones. Just a few months ago, I finally came to grips with the reality that our children were never going to be ‘sporty.’ For a long time I liked the idea of my kids being ‘sporty,’ but since my husband and I aren’t really into sports ... I shouldn’t have been too surprised when our children didn’t show much interest either.”
Extracurricular activities and sports can help your child grow and mature while serving as a way to bring the entire family together. Let your little one shine and they’ll have memories and skills to last a lifetime.