Sometimes There's Too Much Extra in Kids' Extracurricular Activities

How much of the busy are we unnecessarily creating?

By the end of June, my daughter's extracurriculars had, for the most part, wrapped up and I couldn't even when it came to soccer signups before dance had concluded. I am now in a place of reflection and I must share with you, extracurricular demands were doing my head in and I don't think I am alone.

I have friends who I won’t lay eyes on during hockey season, summer lacrosse, or competitive gymnastics. We say it is busy-ness and just a busy time of life, and there is truth to that.

But how much of the busy are we unnecessarily creating?

Few of my friends remember childhoods like this. I took music lessons, and every year the Kiwanis festival would be a busy time, but I know there were lots of weeknights to see friends after school and schedules never seemed this busy. Now you go to book a playdate with a friend and they flip through months on the calendar before they can find an open space.

How does it happen and why?

Extracurricular activity can (obviously) be great. There are tons of positives in parents taking interest in their children and activities, skills can be developed, disciplines taught. Yet when we end up racing from one event to the next, convenience food wrappings gobbled up on the way, bickering, frustrations, screams “we're going to be late” from well-meaning tired parents to overtired kids... is this better for our relationships? Our schedules? Ourselves?

As great as many of the offerings and opportunities are, it is overwhelming, and there is no break until the season is over. There is no feeling of choice about whether to sign up again.

I have friends who know it is crazy, say it is crazy. For some, the activity is really the bright spot in their child’s day; their child really eats, sleeps, and breathes figure skating, and so they make it happen. I get that. But for many of us, we feel a should with the sign-up sheet.

Our reasons?

  • for all it teaches them
  • we are flattered they were ask to try out for the competitive team
  • our kids need to use their talents
  • we don't want them to be quitters

But how do we know when we are pursuing the right activities or schedule? Try this... Check in with yourself. Where is the desire coming from?

The answer could be fear. A fear of missing out for our children and their opportunities, not keeping up with the Jones's, failing our commitments, or not challenging our children. I understand it as a therapist, anxious symptoms are on the rise, and so much makes us afraid or feel like we are not enough. I also understand this also as a parent. We want great things for our kids, and we will do almost anything to provide it.

If it is fear, then we need to check the reality of what the fear is, challenge it and change it. A great technique is to examine the evidence. What is the evidence that they are really missing out? What evidence is there to show that they are going to fail in life if we don't do this?

Is there evidence that they can learn these disciplines or challenges in another place in our family life?

Is there evidence that we are being driven by what others are doing or a fear of being average?

You see, if our kids don't participate in an activity, they are going to be okay. Being disappointed about the fact that you’re not as skilled in an activity as another person is an important life lesson for all of us. Most of the kids who participate competitively are statistically unlikely to go pro. They might not ever participate in such activities again, despite hours or commitments.

There should be some comfort in knowing that, whether we make time for extracurriculars or not, we are all okay.

We are all okay, and our kids will turn out to be okay. There’s no need to let fear drive us.

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Kelly Flannigan Bos, MSW, is an individual, marriage and family therapist. She is also a wife to a great and wildly entrepreneurial guy and a Mom to a four year old who is an avid climber of all things too high.

Currently a Canadian broad abroad, living in the tropics, she uses her passion for healthy relationships with self and others to work with her international clients in her private practice and also help others through the written word.