Sunday, December 9, 2012

Extracurricular Activity Overload~

This post was inspired by a listener of one of my weekly radio segments in Newfoundland. A mother wrote to the show's host asking about her 11 year old daughter who wants to sign up for everything; sports, music, art, any lesson or extracurricular activity she hears about she wants to try. The problem is that she never sticks to anything. At first the mother thought she just hadn’t found her “niche” yet, but after dozens of classes and thousands of dollars, she just can’t keep this up. Can we help?

My answer ... Yes! We can help here, but let's take a deep breath to help ease the frustration before we examine some simple solutions that might be being blocked by the haze of the overload.

OK, so you know that it is music to my ears when a child expresses an interest in extracurricular activities … especially those of an artsy nature! However, we must be just as sensitive to activity-overload as we are to coach potatoes who don't want to try anything!

It is important to help ‘round out' our children without burning them out. And yet it is not always easy to strike a healthy balance while doing so. We will address the issue of encouraging a 'disinterested' child in a future segment; for now, we will answer this mom, and try to find creative ways to get to the root of why her daughter wants to try so many different activities. And, just as important, why she doesn't want to stick with her commitment to pursue them.

You know that I love the toddler mentality which always asks, "WHY? WHY? WHY?" … The reason I love it so much is that it represents a natural and yet-unbiased curiosity which helps children learn, form and grow through the answers they get.

Exploration builds imagination which results in creativity. So, let's explore just a select few possible reasons, imagine what it might be like for this young lady, and then get creative as parents ... looking for answers to every "WHY?"

In this instance, this mom might find that her daughter's desire to enroll in so many activities stems from peer pressure. It could also be from a need to fit in to a particular group (band, chorus, cheer leading, etc.), you know that need for acceptance is so important in formative years … It could also very well be that ‘not fitting in’ to that particular group creates a lack of confidence resulting in a beeline to the exit door.

Often, a lack of self-confidence builds a downward spiral when a child finds that something is not coming easily to them. If this is the case, there are two angles I'd like to examine here; one is the fact that building her self-esteem can help in bigger ways than you can imagine (more on that later), and the second is to focus on nurturing something at which she is good at doing.

That second one is important because we tend to shy away from that which we do best since it comes too easily to us, and so we discount it. We often feel that if we are good at something, it must be common to everyone. That is not so; in fact, that at which we are good is usually our greatest gift meant to be shared with the rest of the world.

Here is where self-esteem building is critical. We must find ways to let our children know that they are great at something. This does not mean building false hopes; instead, be real about acknowledging their greatness, and also teach them to laugh when they flop. I believe that one of the most important things I taught my sons is to laugh at themselves first, before anyone else does because two things are certain; one, someone WILL laugh at you, and two, it won't hurt so bad because you already beat them to it ... At that point it's old news, right? ... And so you move on.

As parents, when we tell our children that they are good at something, we are often met with resistance because we are their parents, and they feel that we are 'supposed' to tell them how great they are. This is partly true; however, instead of telling them only with our words, we must demonstrate to them how and why they are great at _______.

I find that using other people in similar circumstances as examples is helpful because a third-party approach tends to remove the personal feelings and emotions from the situation. Sometimes that's best done in reverse by pointing out how they would not be perceived as _______ if they were not great at ________.

When a loving parent is doing more than puffing up their chest and simply telling their child how great they are, but instead, is pointing out facts in a conversation, it gives the child something to think about ... and they will ... on their own. There is no need for a response from your child here. (This is the point where you can leave them alone to do that thinking.)

No hovering, please~

Revisit the subject on a separate occasion. There is no need to try and get it all in during one conversation ... In fact, that is a sure-fire way to get them to tune out completely, and you will lessen your chances of ever being heard.

This approach builds independent thinking skills and self-esteem. Since the three main ingredients to building self-esteem are empathy, forgiveness and gratitude it helps to highlight these in your conversations. Show empathy for the field-goal kicker who had an entire game resting on his shoulders, only to miss the goal in the last seconds of the game. Instead of trash-talking, show forgiveness if this happened with YOUR team. And show gratitude for the points he did score in the game.

Similarly, when you interject these into your own daily activities with your child, and with your own personal and professional pitfalls and accomplishments, you are clearly demonstrating that this is real life, and this is how you successfully navigate through. This will instill self-esteem.

No matter what else you do, the most important element in developing self-esteem in your child is to be the example; walk, talk, do everything with empathy, forgiveness and gratitude.

That is a recipe for success for everyone! And it will help your child find their 'niche' a little more quickly, and on their own, yet with your loving support.

You know how I know this will work? Simple ... just look at how well you've done so far. Your child is great at many things, and I'd like you to take a moment to write down just a few of them ... Go ahead, write. OK, I'll accept just thoughtfully pondering it in your head.

I'll wait while you do so ...

I know that you've got a pretty good list going there, and you see, those things didn't just 'happen' ... It is not a coincidence that your child has so many great qualities; it is because of what you have done so far. You are better than you give yourself credit for, or you would not be worried so much about this, right?

Now, go do something wonderful for you ... to acknowledge and celebrate your great parenting skills. Sip a cup of your favorite tea, soak in a bubble bath, or call a friend you haven't laughed with in a while.

Have the confidence that because you are a great parent, this too shall turn out well. And if it becomes more than manageable, I know that you are smart enough to know, yet I will give you this gentle, loving reminder: seek outside help. Great and successful people have coaches, therapists and counselors to help them achieve greater success.

I believe in you~

Mama ;-Deb

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