My oldest daughter has been involved in a few different activities in her short 6 years. She’s still pretty young, so I think just exposing her to many options is a good idea to see what she might like to delve into more deeply as she gets older. Each time we set the goal that she give whatever activity we sign up for her best try. Then we give it a certain amount of time and reevaluate if it’s something she wants to continue. She was never thrilled with soccer, so that didn’t last long. Gymnastics was definitely our longest sport and she was very good at it, so it was hard for me when I heard her say she wanted to quit. I wrestled with how to handle it.
We had many discussions about how we only get better at something by continuing to practice…even when it’s not fun. But after a few months of asking after every practice if she could quit, I realized the joy was gone for her. I kept thinking “she’s only 6, why would I force this on her?” So I set an end date and said we would finish up that time period and if she still wanted to be done with it then, she could take a break. It’s been a few months since she quit and she actually practices more at home and has gotten much better at cartwheels and hands stands! I think the rush of heading to practice right after school and then coming home to a hurried dinner and bedtime wore on her more than anything. She likes a more laid back pace and free time for after school, and I can’t blame her when she’s been there most of the day!
These days most kids seem to be involved in at least one extracurricular activity. If you’ve got more than one child and they do more than one sport or lesson of some sort then I know you can start to feel like a professional shuttle going from school to dance to music to soccer to swimming to drama to karate, etc! Your family calendar may even take some pretty tough algorithms to solve the shuttling crisis! Each family must decide for themselves what their time can allow and definitely what their budget can allow.
Then there’s the question of “what activity will they do?” Do you let your child pick? Do you live out your childhood desires through them? Do you see what their strengths are and encourage or push them in a certain area? And then comes the tough part. What do you do when they say they are ready to quit? I don’t want to raise a kid who thinks they can give up anytime something gets hard in life. But I also want her to know what her strength and weaknesses are. I want her to know what things are priorities and what things are for fun. I want her to have self confidence, but not feel so much pressure as a kid that she feels anxiety about her worth being based on a performance.
Sports and music lessons can be great life experiences in working hard to achieve goals, honing your skills, learning self discipline to practice, trying your hardest, fulfilling commitments, and how to have a good attitude in the face of competition whether you win or lose. All of these are great things you need to cultivate in life in order to succeed as an adult. But when those activities take up a lot of your child’s free time, or the joy isn’t there anymore, when do you draw the line? They are kids after all and since school is mandatory…shouldn’t their free time not be constantly filled with scheduled sports and activities?
When I was a kid living in a small town, there weren’t nearly as many options for me as there are for my daughter here in OKC. I wasn’t a sports fan, I wasn’t super competitive, but I did take piano lessons for a little while. I really have no recollection if I wanted to or if my parents wanted me to. I do know I loathed practicing. I wasn’t very self disciplined in that area, but I also wasn’t very passionate about it so maybe that’s why I didn’t care for it. They let me quit after a certain time period and although many adults will say “I wish I’d stuck with it….” I don’t really care that I don’t know much piano other than Heart and Soul and The Pink Panther to this day!
I did want to take dance or try out for cheerleading as a kid, but my parents weren’t too keen on those activities…which may be why I’m such a zumba enthusiast as an adult! That’s my background though and why I’ve tried to let my daughter guide the choice of activity. I let my role as a parent be one that encourages her to try new things to see what she may or may not like, and then if she is ready to try something new we move on or take a break as we see fits best for the time being.
Our second child is still an infant, but I’m sure when she is older our thinking about one activity per kid might change. If it’s too much strain on our family calendar, we might have to do only one per season or take summer breaks or who knows what options I haven’t even considered! Letting my kid quit something though is definitely something I’ve wrestled with and had many discussions with my mommy friends about. How have you handled the extra curricular calendar? Do you let your kids quit? What’s the criteria?