We all want well-rounded children. But when it comes to signing them up for extracurricular activities, how much is too much?
To gain some insight, we checked in with an expert: Suzanne Silverstein, a registered art therapist and founding director of the Psychological Trauma Center and the Share & Care Program at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.
Extracurricular activities are important, but how do we know how many activities are ideal during the school year?
Every child is different. How one child engages in extracurricular activities might be completely different from another child. The first step is to talk to your child about their interests. What activity or activities would they like to try? Give them the opportunity to experience the activities they are interested in.
In terms of how many activities to try, it is important to see if your child can manage their schoolwork. Is it getting completed on time and are they understanding the work they are given? Do they seem stressed by having after-school activities because they are falling behind with their schoolwork? Are they going to bed on time, or are they staying up late trying to complete their work? As a parent, you may need to cut out activities if your child is unable to manage their workload, even if they are enjoying their activities.
How can parents better understand their child’s feelings about a particular activity?
First step is to talk to your child about the activity and ask them specific questions. What do they like about the activity? How does it make them feel about themselves? What did you learn from your discussion? Reflect on what you’ve learned and then have a follow-up discussion with your child about your reflections. This may help your child understand their own feelings better as well.
Second, watch them engage in their activity. Do they look like they are enjoying it? Does it appear to make them feel good about themselves? Are they getting along with their peers who are taking part in the same activity? Compare what your child says about their activity with what you observe. By talking with them and observing them, you can better understand how your child feels about the activity.
Do you have some guidelines for parents based on the age of the child — preschool, elementary school, tween and teens?
For younger children, expose them to many activities until one seems to spark their interest. If your child really likes sports, have them be part of a team or work with a coach. If they like science, enroll them in a science camp or one that deals with building things like Legos.
There are also sleep-away camps for older children where they are exposed to various activities. One can also find summer activities through your child’s school or at a neighborhood park. Teenagers will generally let you know what they like. Pay attention to what they like to talk about. Do they like to talk about artistic activities such as art, drama, music, movies? Or is it competitive activities such as sports, chess or contests? Maybe they are interested in politics and student government. Once you learn about their interests, look for activities that your child seems to be leaning towards.
Here are some highlights:
- Try an activity to see if your child likes it before making a commitment
- Observe your child taking part in activities they are interested in
- Pay attention to your child’s behavior and stress level
- Keep in mind these are extra activities
What if you have a child who wants to try everything and is busy every single day?
There can be a case for too much extracurricular activities. It’s important for your child to experience some down time, time to relax and recharge. Talk to your child about the importance of down time. You can also role model this for your child by reading, taking a short walk, eating a good meal.
Children benefit from learning how to deal with unstructured time. Learning how to be with themselves and not always with friends can be valuable. Maybe there is an activity they learn to do by themselves at home. They may also like family activities such as cooking meals together, playing board games as a family or watching a movie together.
What if you have a child who does not want to participate in any extracurricular activities?
It’s important to see your child for who they are. Talk with them about what interests them and observe them to see if there are some areas of interest that you could help them expand on.
Ultimately, you want to help your child develop into their own person, not the person you might want them to be.
What health & wellness questions are keeping you up at night? Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll ask the experts.