My nine year old daughter isn’t interested in any extra curricular activities. She has tried music lessons and dancing. She was interested at first and then quit after a few months. Should I have made her stick it out? Am I teaching her to give up by allowing her to quit?
No, you’re not. You are teaching her that her interests and abilities matter, and that it is okay for her to consult her own feelings when deciding how she wants to spend her time and her life. This is a very important lesson. I have counselled many adults who don’t know what they like, how they want to spend their leisure time, and even what they want to do for a living, because they learned in childhood that they must put their own preferences aside and do what they were told.
Children already have to go to school and discipline themselves to attend classes and to do homework. They have to learn the subjects in the school curriculum whether they like it or not. That’s enough discipline for a developing mind. Extra-curricular activities should be just that – activities that children explore and continue with if they enjoy these activities.
Each person comes equipped with certain natural abilities and potential interests. Usually our interests are closely related to our abilities – we like to do what we are good at. Sometimes, however, they are different. We may be good at something, such as mathematics, but not enjoy it. Or we may love doing something, such as dancing, even though we are not good at it. We have to live our lives in our own bodies, with our own abilities and interests. So it makes sense that we explore what those abilities and interests are, especially in childhood.
Be careful not to impose your own unfulfilled ambitions on your child. Just because you always wanted to dance and didn’t get to doesn’t mean that she will love dancing. Children really like to please their parents, so it is very important that you encourage your daughter to follow her heart rather than doing what you think might be right for her. She is her own unique person, and if you support her in trusting her own feelings, she will find enjoyable activities which will last all her life.
Childhood is a time for exploration as well as for learning basic skills. In childhood we learn what we like and don’t like, and what we are good at or mediocre at, by trying different things. If we have the opportunity to try many things without judgment, we will find those activities which can give us pleasure for the rest of our lives. It’s good that commitments in childhood be brief, so that children can explore without the pressure to become experts when they don’t yet know what they like. I know a young woman who spent her childhood being pressured by a coach to practise her sport and become a world champion athlete. Now in her early 20s, she has no idea what she wants to do in life, because she didn’t get to try many things and find out what she liked in childhood.
It helps, if a child is beginning a new activity, if they make a commitment for a certain period of time. But that period should be measured in days or weeks, not months. Don’t go out and buy expensive musical or sports equipment, and then resent your child for not wanting to use it. Let your child try things for short periods without a huge commitment, and then gradually increase the time period of commitment as the child gets older and the required skill level becomes greater.
If your child is not enjoying an activity, ask her why, without judging her. I dropped out of piano at the age of seven because my teacher, who was blind, kept stretching my hands farther than they could go, and it hurt. It didn’t occur to me to tell my parents the problem. Other kids drop out because of such things as bullies in the class, or an inept teacher, rather than because of the activity itself. A different class or teacher might take care of the problem.
Besides scheduled learning activities, kids also need time just to be kids, to play board games and imaginative games and just hang out with friends and relax. Children develop their creativity and their social skills in these unscheduled times. Play is probably the most important activity for a child of any age – make sure your child has time for it.