Q: I have a son who never wants to join anything, but once he is in the club, team or organization, he loves it. How much do you recommend pushing kids to join things?
A: You haven't mentioned your son's age so it's harder to make recommendations about how many activities he should be involved in or how much you should push. Younger children only need a few, while middle and high school students should be more involved. Extracurricular activities such as band, drama, art, chess, math or science teams are crucial in building kids' self-confidence and social skills. Physical extracurricular activities are also important for good health.
For very young children, I recommend you simply sign them up for classes or activities. Although many are enthusiastic about joining, children who are more anxious often respond "no" to parents' request because of their fear of the unknown in new activities. Their usual "no" response brings on an argument and builds their negativity, which increases their fears. You can say to a preschool or primary age child, "I just signed you up for swimming lessons or dancing (or whatever you choose) because I thought you might enjoy it. It will be fun and healthy exercise for you."
For older children who know a little more about specific activities, you can use the approach of indicating that you expect them to participate in at least one sport or physical activity and one other club or hobby. If you or their other parent had a particularly good experience in your childhoods, you might say something like, "I loved drama club and I bet you would too." Or "Dad really enjoyed basketball, and he could probably teach you some helpful skills." Some timid middle or high school kids are more likely to join in if they have a friend who participates with them. You can remind high school students that their participation in activities looks good on college applications.
Your children will benefit dramatically from involvement in service projects. Volunteering to help others who have less than they have will build a belief in community responsibility and diminish the sense of entitlement that can feel most discouraging to parents. There's important research that shows that tweens and teens who are engaged in extracurricular activities are much less likely to be involved in high risk behaviors, such as alcohol, other drugs and promiscuous sex. That would be reason enough to encourage your son's involvement if he is an adolescent.
Anxious or shy children are less willing to take the risk of joining something new. Their first response to a new activity is usually "no," but if you insist that they participate, they usually learn to enjoy the activity and eventually develop enough confidence so they can take initiative instead of avoiding participation. That may be what is happening with your son. I like to cast new activities as adventures and encourage kids to become explorers and adventurers. Hopefully that will help them to see activities as opportunities for engagement rather than barriers to avoid.
For free newsletters about how sports can help your child achieve, why the arts are important, and/or "Growing Up Too Fast" (Rodale, 2005) send a self-addressed, stamped envelope for each newsletter to address below. Dr. Sylvia B. Rimm is the director of the Family Achievement Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio, a clinical professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, and the author of many books on parenting. More information on raising kids is available at www.sylviarimm.com. Please send questions to: Sylvia B. Rimm on Raising Kids, P.O. Box 32, Watertown, WI 53094 or [email protected] To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.