When my four children were all engaged in after-school activities we had a rule that they could not participate in more than three activities per week as most teams require at least one practice session and one game a week which would be an almost impossible task to manage. We also had a rule that, if you started an activity, you had to see it through to the end of the term!
We let our children choose their activities, with the exception of swimming lessons, as we feel this is a basic life skill that we wanted our kids to have.
But just as is the case for many families finding the time and financial commitment can sometimes provide a challenge. How do you know which activities your children will be interested in and which ones they’ll carry forward? How do you motivate them to take the activities you want them to pursue whislt still maintaining a balanced family life?
Here are my top tips to overcoming these obstacles:
1. Start kids off with a multi-sports/multi-activity program or holidays kids camps to see where their natural interests and abilities lie. Many communities offer this type of programming, so kids can test what they like and what they don’t without you investing too much money in equipment or supplies.
2. Don’t force your kids to be interested in the same sports you may have played! Although it’s certainly easier to have all of your kids interested in the same activity, it doesn’t always happen that way, and it’s painful for both you and the child to push it. It’s also vitally important to note that some kids don’t take to sports and this should not stop them being as active both in term time and during school holidays. Fun activities are the key; for example, a game of tag in the park would work for all.
It’s great to share stories with your child about what you used to do “back in the day,” but if none of your children aspires to excel in your activity of choice, let it drop. We all have our own talents. Let your child discover for him or herself if he or she likes a sport as much as you did. And always remember, don’t criticize the way kids are learning now, or try to override the coach’s advice as that can also contribute to disengagement.
3. Let them take a program they genuinely enjoy, not one where you’re already counting the payback from 'future contracts'. Don’t tell your seven-year-old: “but this is a great university sport!” or, “professionals get paid a lot of money to do this!” It’s too much pressure, and kids can’t fathom what doing an activity professionally would even look like at that age.
4. Make sure your child is interested in the activity or sport personally, not just because a friend is in the program. What’s great about giving options for both fun activities and sports is that it brings kids from different schools, backgrounds and even ages together in a joint pursuit. It’s terrific if a child has a best friend that’s also interested in the same thing, and it’s ideal for carpooling purposes. But don’t let that be your prime motivator.
5. Find the right balance for your family and child. Committing to an activity can mean giving up other things. If one child’s activity is taking up all of the family’s free time on evenings and weekends, it can feel unfair and upsetting to the child (or children) who are left at home or constantly being forced to be in the stands watching their sibling. Parents should try to take turns being the primary supporter of each child’s activity and find ways to interact with the kids who aren’t involved in that activity to avoid feelings of favouritism.
6. Homework can often cause issues with timings and commitment to activities/sports. However, a routine and clear expectations of when to take part in activity and when we have to complete homework is key. Then maybe we can have time to enjoy some quality family time!
7. Lastly and maybe the most important thing from me is to make sure whatever they choose they enjoy, it has to be made fun at an early age. After all, even us adults remember our first sporting challenge or PE lesson!