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Extracurricular activities for kids: Should you pull your child out of one?

©iStockphoto.com/Kaspi - Kilikpela's Aperture Studio Photography Inc. Author: Canadian Living Credits: ©iStockphoto.com/Kaspi - Kilikpela's Aperture Studio Photography Inc.

Family

Extracurricular activities for kids: Should you pull your child out of one?

From soccer practice to piano lessons to ballet, we tend to sign our kids up for lots of activities just so they won't miss out on anything. But what happens when you feel so overscheduled that your family can't breathe? Or what if your child doesn't want to go to practice after only a few sessions?

We checked in with Julie Freedman Smith, cofounder of Parenting Power, a Calgary-based family coaching consultancy, for her advice on how to decide whether to pull your child out of an activity or stick with it for the duration.

1. Learn when it's too much
There are several signs that show when an activity isn't working for your family, says Freedman Smith. The most obvious indication is when kids complain about going to the lesson or activity and don't want to practise at home.

"That's their way of demonstrating this isn't important to them," she explains.

How your child behaves in the activity is also a good barometer. Is he or she paying attention? Or is there misbehaviour going on? Some instructors are ill equipped to deal with certain kinds of kids. If there's a personality clash or if your child is being singled out and picked on, staying in the session could be detrimental, warns Freedman Smith.

"Don't feel you need to keep kids in an activity to learn responsibility and commitment if they're being treated unfairly. Your job first and foremost, is your child's safety. If they're being harmed, get them out," she says.

Do you feel the majority of your family time is chauffeuring your kids to and fro or that an activity is tearing at your pocketbook? If so, this can indicate you've taken on too much.

2. Commit to your family values
Deciding whether to quit an activity or stick it out needn't be complicated if you have decided what your family values are. Revisit the reason you wanted your child to do the activity in the first place. Are there certain skills to be learned that are non-negotiable in your family? Or was the activity merely an opportunity to try something new?

"Every family has to choose for themselves where they draw their line," says Freedman Smith.

Sue Kryway, a mother of four based in Calgary, was brought up to see things through and she wanted to instill that sense of responsibility in her children. When midway through the soccer season two of her preschoolers showed no interest in being on the field, she knew, based on their family values, that quitting wasn't an option.

"I told the girls they didn't have to play, but they'd made a commitment to their team, so the least they could do is be present on the sidelines to support them," she says.

3. Take action
If your child isn't happy in his activity, discuss your expectations with him. Then work together to find a strategy to get through it. That might mean setting aside the same time each day for practice or having a special treat after the lesson or activity.

If you've decided it's OK to discontinue the lesson or activity, have the child tell his instructor or coach himself so he owns that responsibility. If he's too young, Freedman Smith recommends still making him a part of the conversation by having him with you when you talk to the instructor.

"There's not a lot of learning that occurs if they don't witness it," notes Freedman Smith. "It's important to teach kids that, when things are uncomfortable, we still do what needs to get done."

4. Decide what's most important for your child
Before signing kids up for any extracurricular activities, Freedman Smith recommends taking a look at both your values and your budget to decide what's most important for the child to learn and how many activities your family feels comfortable taking on.

Let your child know upfront what is expected of her when committing to an activity -- such as how much she needs to practice -- and what the recourse is if she no longer wants to participate. And if you're trying something your child has never done before, consider signing up for only one session or semester. That way if she loves it, you can continue, and if it's not the right fit, you can move on.
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Extracurricular activities for kids: Should you pull your child out of one?

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