NEWS November 25th, 2010

By Sharon Ko

Extracurricular activities for your kids

Communication is important with your child's afterschool dilemma and knowing what they want to do

Ballet shoes? Check.

Lunchbox? Check.

Your child’s enthusiasm to go to dance class? Pending.

Whether you want your child to become the next Michelle Kwan or piano prodigy, or simply want them to interact with other kids to develop social skills, parents often clash with their child over desired extracurricular activities.

With hundreds of leisure activities to choose from for parents and kids, it shouldn’t come as a shock that conflicting interests may arise.

Mary Gallantry said she always considers the interest of her children, but sometimes it’s just impossible to cater to their wants.

The mother of two said these differences occur not because parents are “big meanies”, but because of other factors that kids are too young to comprehend.

“Kids don’t always understand that factors such as money and even time can cause a great setback,” she said. “Even though we’d love to sign them up for the activity that their hearts are set on, it’s not always an option.”

Parent Jin Park said it’s not always a matter of what activities are chosen, but the total number of them.

Indeed, an excessive amount of activities for your children can also become problematic.

With her children participating in piano lessons, skating lessons and Kumon, an afterschool math program, the mother of two even admits it may be a little too much sometimes.

“They also have homework from school in addition to these three things so it could be a little overwhelming for them.”

Despite the level of difficulty in maintaining all activities — school included — Park said it’s important to instill kids with a sense of responsibility.

“There’s a reason they’re still kids — because they’re young and haven’t developed a great deal of responsibility,” she said.

“And it’s crucial for kids to gain that. It’ll definitely contribute to their growth. They don’t see this now, but they will, and hopefully know that we did this with the best intentions.”

Whether parents aren’t selecting their child’s preferred activity, or simply opting for too many, communication is key.

“The most common problem is communication,” said child and family therapist Joanna Seidel, of Joanna Seidel Professional Counselling Services.

“With whatever situation is at hand — they’re not doing well in school, they’re struggling with friends, they’re struggling with extracurricular activities — the communication breaks down and conflict often arises.”

Seidel said in order to solve conflicting interests, parents need to develop an understanding for their children by talking to them and seeing not only what their wants are, but also their needs.

“Parents need to figure out if it’s their child’s need,” she said.

“Is it their need to play hockey? Is it their need to play guitar? Whose need is it that’s being enforced onto children?”

The want is also important, however. Children should have a genuine sense of interest in the activity, according to Seidel.

“We don’t want them having no interest and just sitting in front of the computer or watching TV all day and being isolated.”

Seidel adds that the best thing a parent can do is give their child options.

“Say something like ‘At school I got feedback from your teacher that you’ve been doing really good in art classes. Can I sign you up for one?’”

Or, get involved in the activity yourself.

“Try to find something that you and your child can do together,” she said.

“That way you’re not enforcing the child to do it on his or her own.”