Have you ever found yourself carting your kids around on a Saturday, arguing about whether they need to go to the football practice they are now professing to hate?
On the one hand, I want to do right by my kids and expose them to activities that will keep them engaged, healthy and happy. I’d be thrilled to find something they’re passionate about that isn’t YouTube or a video game.
On the other hand, the cost of activities adds up (and multiplies with more kids). A 2019 report from LendingTree found that nearly half of parents surveyed spent more than $1,000 per year on extracurricular activities for their kids. That’s a sizable dent in the average family’s budget.
Extracurriculars also come with tons of administrative and logistical overhead, and the structure can be too much of a good thing. Not to mention the struggle with the kids is real. And how many of us have actually stuck with the activities we started when we were young?
Extracurriculars: Do the Pros Outweigh the Cons?
The good news is, experts have weighed in on these questions, and there’s a growing body of research on the effects of extracurriculars on kids’ happiness, success, and overall well-being. Let’s look at some of the most common questions parents ask about extracurriculars and see what the experts have to say.
There’s no doubt that extracurricular activities can have a positive impact on a child’s development. Clinical psychologist Dr. Harpreet Kaur explains that children who participate in structured activities outside of school “engage more with their parents and are more active in their community. They’re also less likely to engage in drug use or other criminal activities.”
But finding the right balance is important. And every child is unique. These are some questions to ask yourself before signing your child up for that dance class or little league football team.
Is My Child Interested in This Activity?
Your child is much more likely to be successful in any extracurricular if they have expressed an interest in it on their own. Remember, just because you spent your teenage years dreaming of becoming a professional athlete doesn’t necessarily mean your kid wants to live out those dreams! Allow your child to participate in activities that they naturally gravitate towards.
Is My Child Showing Any Resistance?
The most important thing you can do is listen to your child and observe their cues. If they’re expressing frustration, anxiety, boredom, or other challenging emotions around a situation, it’s important to get to the bottom of it. Randy McCoy, a senior executive of The Little Gym, reminds us that communication is key: “Regular, consistent and productive communication with your child will likely clue you in to how your child is feeling about their extracurricular activities.”
Is There Enough Time in My Child’s Schedule?
Don’t overload your kids’ calendars, no matter how strong the urge may be. When it comes to extracurriculars, most experts agree that quality is more important than quantity. Child psychologist David Elkind recommends that kids split their time equally between structured activities and unstructured play.
So, Are Extracurriculars Good for Kids?
When it comes to extracurriculars, moderation is key.
There is peer pressure for your kids to be busy. But in my research, what almost all experts seem to agree on is that there’s a direct link between depression and anxiety rates and the amount of unstructured free time kids have to play. So too much time spent on extracurriculars can actually have the opposite effect from what you may have intended.
Remember to give your kids plenty of time to just be kids. Free time can be just as valuable as time spent developing a skill or competing in a sport. And if and when you do enrol your child in an extracurricular activity, keep tabs on how they’re responding to it and engaging with it. If one activity isn’t a good fit, don’t be afraid to let your child change their mind and try something new.
At Lifemin, we know that one of the challenges of juggling a busy schedule is simply keeping track of what’s on the calendar. If staying on top of important school dates and events is a challenge for your family, learn how Lifemin can help with keeping your child’s academic calendar up to date.