As school begins, finding the right after-school activities for your child is important. As a parent of two teenage girls, my daughters have tried several different activities while growing up such as soccer, softball, golf, swimming, tennis, piano, voice lessons and guitar.
My husband and I decided when our kids were young we would try not to let our girls do more than two activities at a time. It was too hard with our family schedule to do more and we didn’t want our kids to have too much on their plate at any moment. We also wanted to make sure our kids could be kids and play outside with their friends and have family time.
As you are thinking about what activities to put your child in during the school year, board certified licensed mental health counselor Kristina Hager, MS, NCC, LMHC with Bay Area Neuropsychology recommends limiting the amount of activities your child is in. “A safe and healthy recommendation for children and adolescents is to have one or two (no more than three) extracurricular activities depending on the child’s needs and the demands of the activity,” Hager says. “An extracurricular activity can provide a great outlet for children to learn to work on a team, encourage one another, and develop and master non-academic skills. If the child is engaged in too many activities, it could potentially lead to feeling overwhelmed and reduced performance, which in turn could contribute to a lower self-esteem and possible development or enhanced anxiety. The key is to listen to the child’s needs,” she adds.
Choosing the right extracurricular activity for your child can take time. We tried several different sports and activities as our girls were growing up and eventually let them choose which one they liked best. When picking activities for your child, Hager said parents should pay attention to their child’s strengths and weaknesses and what interests them.
“Be aware and sensitive to what they enjoy playing when they are young. Are they more of an outdoor child? Do they like to create, such as music or art? Do they thrive in group settings? And choose an activity to start based on what you observe.”
Eventually our girls found softball was the sport they both liked best. As they’ve gotten older, playing a sport takes up more time than when they were younger. It can be challenging to find the time to do anything else besides the one sport and school. My older daughter plays for the high school team, recreational team and travel team. Practices are five days a week and games on the weekends. It can be a lot, especially with going to school and finding time to do homework.
Extracurricular activities have helped our daughters become more well-rounded as individuals. I have found several really good reasons why it’s important for kids to be involved in sports or some kind of activity besides school. If they are involved in activities, they can’t be playing their electronics, which kids today are on all the time. Also, if they are doing a sport they are getting exercise and kids need to exercise. One of the biggest reasons is that your child isn’t bored and getting into trouble.
An added bonus is some activities can lead to scholarships for college. If a child becomes good enough at what they love doing, they may be offered a scholarship. I am hoping my two girls will get scholarships. Scholarships can really help out when you get the tuition bill for college.
“Social interaction and growth is a great benefit of being involved in extracurricular activities,” says Hager. “They will also learn how to persevere in times of difficulty, to practice a skill in order to master it, and to encourage one another to be their best. It also gives them something to look forward to apart from their academic life, which can sometimes be overwhelming for children. Just like adults, children need social outlets and free space to do things they love in order to grow and adapt to life in a healthy way.”
Studies have documented the benefits of having kids involved in activities. A study published in July by the Women’s Sports Foundation found that “high levels of involvement in school-based athletics were one of the strongest correlates with lower levels of depression, higher levels of self-esteem, and lower levels of self-derogation, higher grades, greater aspirations to attend college or graduate school, lower risk of truancy (i.e., cutting or skipping class) and school misbehavior, and lower risk of experiencing academic problems.”
As you look for extracurricular activities for your child, find something they enjoy and something that fits into your family schedule. Let your child try several activities, sports or clubs at school, so they can eventually find what they love to do. Extracurricular activities can be beneficial to your child as they are growing up and as they get older.