Do you sign your child up for soccer, piano, karate and then after 3 classes he decides he has had enough?
One of my clients wrote in with the following:
I have a question regarding my child. He is part of a chess club and keeps losing and wants to give up all the time. We try to gently push him, and encourage him to stay with it, (chess club is not the only thing he has given up on) I don’t know how to deal with this type of behavior. Any suggestions?
Here are 7 ways to handle the child who is wishy washy about his extracurricular activities:
1. Children should be encouraged to try many activities:
I heard a well-known psychologist state the following piece of wisdom that changed my attitude towards my kids quitting karate, guitar, piano, drawing, baseball etc. She said that, it is not necessarily a bad thing when a child loses interest in classes or activities in which he has signed up. Most activities lose their appeal quickly for kids. Trying new things out is what childhood is for and should be encouraged.
We can say, “You didn’t care for baseball, that is too bad. I am glad you tried it. It is always important try new things.” Most children have a hard time sticking to one activity for any length of time. The kids that can are truly talented. They can and do become superstars. Us regular people with regular kids need to be okay with the fact that our kids won’t be in the NBA playoffs or on Broadway. If that gets you down, or if you feel like you are doing your child a disservice, recognize that fame does not usually breed happiness or good behavior. We only need to look at the actions of famous people to recognize the truth of that.
Is your son overscheduled and pressured to take classes because that is the thing to do? I know for myself I am athletic and love certain sports. One of my children has poor gross motor skills and has trouble in that area. I need to bite my tongue to keep from suggesting he engage in some type of team sport.
Is chess playing something that is important to you and your family? Make sure it doesn’t cloud his judgment about activities in which he would like to participate. Keep in mind, not all children need to engage in extra curricular programs. It might be too much for them. As long as he is pursuing his interests at home, reading, music, drawing, science experiments, gardening, building lego sets or just playing, he will be fine.
2. Look at your child’s natural talents:
Sometimes as parents we don’t think about what our children are good at but what is socially acceptable and cool. American culture highly values team sports for both girls and boys, drama and music. Again, I had to get over that with my own child and recognize the beauty of having a bookworm. Does your son have a logical, mathematic mind? Is chess helping him cultivate his innate strengths? If not, maybe it is time to look for something else.
3. Help your child get real about his innate strengths:
Is your son trying to be someone who he is not? That is fine. It is part of the growing up process. Children like to try on different identities. You want to encourage him by saying things like, “I am glad you are trying different things and seeing what you like and don’t like. That is what childhood is for.” Using language like that may take the pressure off of him needing to win all the time. It can help put his extracurricular activities into perspective. Engaging in clubs, team sports and other activities is supposed to be fun, helping you to develop social networks and skills you wouldn’t ordinarily have the chance to develop. It is a sad adult who doesn’t have a good sense of what his true abilities are and hasn’t had a chance to experiment and learn what he can specifically and uniquely contribute to society.
4. Take his lead when he decides what activity he wants to try:
As long as it is within your budget listen and find ways to promote his interests. After that it his responsibility and you can take a hands off approach. For example you can say, “looks like you are having a hard time with chess, its your decision whether you want to stick with it or move onto something else.”
You can remind him that chess takes a lot of concentration, effort and time to learn. You can say, “I hear what your saying about chess and how frustrated you are getting with the game. I just want to remind you that you did just start and chess takes a ton of practice. I think the chess greats spent at least 8 hours a day playing chess. If you really like it, you might want to stick with it for a while longer, it will get easier.”
5. Take the focus off of winning and onto effort expended:
To help him move his focus from winning we want to avoid using evaluative praise like “good job” or superlatives “you are the greatest” or “you are the smartest”. This type of encouragement is painful and counterproductive for children. You want to use “Process Praise”. Your son needs to be praised for his effort and for trying. This will encourage him to try more. Not just with chess but with everything he does.
“Process praise” sounds like this:
“I see that you cleaned your bookshelves and made your bed you are working towards getting your room cleaned. You are making an effort.” (Even if the rest of his room is a disaster.)
“This homework assignment is really frustrating you. Even though you are not looking forward to doing it, you have your book open and your pencils ready to go. You are putting in effort.”
“When you played chess today, I saw you thinking about your moves very carefully. You did the best that you could and had an interesting strategy. You should be proud of the effort you showed in today’s game.”
6. Gently remind of his commitment and your expectations:
If you have already paid for the classes you are well within your rights to expect him to finish the session. You can say, “I know you are having second thoughts about chess right now but we expect you to finish the session and do the best that you can. I know it is not your first choice but I also know that in our family we try to be responsible about our commitments.”
In the future signing a child up for a limited number of sessions, about 6-10 classes is realistic. You may also want to sign up on a trial basis.
7. Concentrate on what he does regularly:
Instead of pointing out all the things he won’t follow through on, focus on the stuff he does stick to, like going to school everyday, finishing books, doing homework, finishing school projects, going to visit his Grandma every week, or keeping up his friendships. Nothing out of the ordinary- just the simple things that he does that shows he has staying power.
As parents we need to advocate for our children and be their biggest cheerleaders. Finding ways to root for them as they navigate through the challenges of childhood is critical to their emotional well-being. Let us use the techniques and suggestions outlined in this article to help us be their best supporter.