Thursday, July 11, 2013

Extracurricular activities-Do you push or do you let them quit? --Learning from experience

One of the most difficult things I have had to decide as a parent is what role extracurricular activities will play in my kids' lives.   I am a pretty laid back hands off parent and let them make a lot of their own decisions.  However I have always loved music and dance so when the opportunity to sign my oldest up for Kindermusik at 18 months I jumped at the chance.  We loved it, it was a mommy & me activity so I loved spending the one on one time with her singing, dancing, reciting poems and I believe Kindermusik is a highly educational thirty minutes (it helps with reading and math connections as well as beginning a music foundation). 

Then soccer came onto the scene.  I learned a lot about my oldest four year old in soccer.  I learned that she was not motivated intrinsically.  She was pretty lazy unmotivated on the field so we did the unthinkable.  We bribed her with a Webkinz to score a goal (I'm pretty against bribing but I do NOT regret this choice.  We were able to find out her potential and learned that she was extrinsically motivated.  The goal from then on was to help her become self rewarded and proud of her own accomplishments).  She was on fire that day and scored three goals.  Our very bright, but not very athletic girl had the ability to predict where that ball would go and set herself up in a position to score.  She became good in the year that she played but did not like to run or where shin guards so we let her quit.   

It was OK though because Kindergarten was upon us and school was definitely going to be our number one priority.  However my urge to have a little dancer did take over and we started her in a small town, laid back dance studio where the focus was on fun.  Along with dance she did some 6 week activities (soccer, basketball) and in January she rejoined Kindermusik.  That was more activities then I thought I would let her engage in as a 6 year old but she handled it well.  (As a former Kindergarten teacher I do strongly encourage that you follow your child's lead this year and into first grade).

First grade= smooth sailing with Kindermusik and dance with a little basketball.  The youngest started Kindermusik this year at the age of 18 months.

Second grade- we added piano to the mix because Kindermusik was over and she had a strong music foundation. Through other things (bike riding) we learned that she still needed a push to conquer things that challenged her and thought piano would be a good way to do so (school was pretty easy for her).  I was right, piano was challenging but we positively encouraged her to stick it out.  In the summer before third grade we dabbled with some camps in the summer which included a competition dance team that was challenging but also very good exercise and I learned that my child forgets she has asthma and exercises her little buns off when she's dancing.  However she was not ready to make the switch to competing (looking back she probably was but I was taking her lead). 

Third grade- Little sister starts dance at age 4 and M continues to dance and play piano.  Piano was a struggle and a fight.  She was supposed to practice 5 days a week and her teacher had to tell her that practicing meant she had to play the song 5 times (M needed the line drawn in the sand).  So basically 25 times a week.  This was a parenting challenge as well as a challenge for her.  I am not a nagging parent.  My kids know the expectations, I leave them alone to meet those expectations and every once in awhile we discuss what is going well and what is not.  Piano was not.  One week, after not practicing at all, and then getting into an argument about it, I put it in her hands and said, "Piano is tomorrow.  If you want to go you will sit and play 25 times or I will not be giving you a ride to piano."  This is the first time that quitting was even an option.  I put it in her hands and guess what she did?  SHE PRACTICED!!!!  That was such a turning point for her confidence and belief in herself. 

Fourth grade-  I made the decision to switch her to competition dance.  She didn't want to do it because it was hard but I pushed her and made the decision for her.  My main motivation for this is because she was giving up on sports, starting to become a couch potato and used her asthma as a crutch for not doing kid things like playing outside, running or even going for a walk with me.  Comptetion dance was 2 hrs. a week that I knew she was doing something healthy for herself.   In JANUARY she went to her first competition.  She was hooked!!  In March she wrote an essay about it being the best moment in her life.

This brings us to the now.  She has been invited to dance a level up (with high schoolers) begged to start clogging (which she is suprisingly good at and practices all the time) and started flute lessons.  On her second lesson it was recommended to me that she take private lessons because she was quite good apparently and become the youngest on this private flute teacher's roster.  A few days ago she actually thanked me for pushing her through piano and dance because she is doing things she never dreamed she would be able to do and now this girl welcomes a challenge.  I asked her how she felt dancing with high schoolers while her friends are in another group and she said, "I'm lonely right now and it's hard but I want the challenge." 

I cried. 

And then she told her 5 year old sister that didn't want to do competition dance, "yes you do.  It is fun and you will love it." (We will sign her up but we will also look for signs of stress and pull her out if necessary.  I think that is still ok at this age.)

My advice to anyone facing this same very hard decisions about whether or not it is OK to push your child,  just be mindful, be supportive, and listen to them.   Give it time, listen to your instincts and you will know when it is too much.  If your gut is telling you to give them a push then do it. 

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