Any parent would say that they only want the best for their children. It’s in our nature to want to nurture the next generation and foster our kids’ development. Some parents try to do this by putting their children in all sorts of extracurricular activities for kids and learning programs with the hopes that it will improve their chances of future success.
After all, when children learn things from an early age, they get plenty of benefits both for their academic lives and their personal lives. For example, early childhood learning allows children to develop valuable communication skills and important behavioural patterns that influence how they interact with the world. With that alone, it should seem worth it to enrol in all these programs and extracurricular activities.
But is it worth it?
When does it become too much?
For that matter, is it worth it to force your child to do these things at all?
In short, no.
Broadly speaking, parents should not “force” their children into activities he or she does not want to do. A child’s brain is already constantly forming connections without the added stress of unwanted activity, but when a child is forced into an activity he or she is uninterested in, it can place a lot of unnecessary stress and pressure on the child. This, in turn, has been shown to increase the risk for the development of anxiety disorders and decreases the brain’s capacity to adapt and remember things. In other words, all the effort put into making one’s child smarter and more successful can backfire and cause the child to become unhappy and unhealthy.
Encouraging your child to learn and explore interests, however, is perfectly healthy. I’m not trying to say that parents should not urge their children to do activities beyond school. It’s important though to consider the things your child might enjoy doing rather than opting for anything and everything that boasts future success.
Shouldn’t kids be allowed to just be kids?
Well, yes and no. Of course, kids should be able to enjoy their childhoods. Kids only get one, so it’s best to let them take advantage of their youth. That being said, kids aren’t always the best managers of their own time, nor are they any more prone to making good decisions than they are making risky ones. If you give a child a choice between a piece of cake and an apple, generally speaking, he or she’s more than likely going to take the cake.
It’s not inherently bad; humans are driven by their pleasure centres, and kids are especially susceptible to pleasure-seeking behaviours since the frontal cortex (the part of the brain responsible for decision-making and risk analysis) doesn’t fully develop until after adulthood begins. So, it makes sense that kids would rather have their cake and eat it, too.
This is where parents come into play. It becomes your job as a parent to help guide your children to make decisions that are good for them, which, yes, can include putting them in activities.
I have to stress that you should try to tailor these activities to your child’s unique set of needs and interests.
Below are some examples of good activities to put your child into:
If your child is particularly energetic and competitive, he or she could thrive in the realm of sports. Team sports are especially good for children as they teach kids to value teamwork and collaboration, but solo sports like swimming and tennis are useful as well.
In general, physical activity is one of the best types of activities you can put your kids in. Keeping your kids in good physical shape is great, but it also helps them channel all the excess energy they have and promotes good mental health. The wide variety of sports to choose from makes this one of the more accessible activities too, as you can almost certainly find one to suit your kid’s needs. Just make sure that the one you enrol your child in is one that he or she can enjoy.
But what if you don’t know which one is best, or if your child doesn’t like any of the options? If your child lacks the energy or capacity to partake in sports or simply doesn’t enjoy physical activity, maybe consider other activity options. However, if your kid is scared of trying something new, encourage him or her lightly to give it a try, even if only for a little while. Change is good!
Boy Scouts/Girl Scouts
This is another common activity for kids, and for good reason. These organizations design their programs to teach kids important physical and mental skills that help them develop into more well-balanced adults, Learning to survive in the wilderness is pretty cool, but I’m also talking about things like independence, compassion, organization skills, and community involvement.
This is one that should centre more around your child’s specific interests. If your child shows interest in music or art, then great! Learning an instrument can help strengthen connections in the brain, thus improving things like memory and coordination. Meanwhile, art cultivates creative thinking and attention to detail. Nonetheless, these classes aren’t for everyone. Some kids simply wouldn’t enjoy things like this, and forcing your children to develop skills in these areas can lead to resentment. It’s best to let them choose on this one.
A final word
The list of possible activities you can put your children in is endless. Really, the only sorts of activities you should not put your children in are the ones they’re going to despise. If you try to teach you kids a lesson by forcing them into an activity, they’ll probably just be mad at you and refuse to learn anything.
The best course of action is to let their interests guide them and provide them with the resources and support that will allow their interests to bloom. And who knows? Maybe one day those interests will turn into hobbies, and maybe one day those hobbies will turn into career goals.
On another note, please, whatever you do, do not fill up their entire schedules with multiple activities at once and no time for themselves. Children are still humans that need time to rest beyond school and extracurricular activities. It’s great to have your children being active in something, but don’t let them run their youths away by taking all of their freedom. Your kids will thank you for it later.