Sports…Activities…Multiple kids..oh my!

The term, “Soccer Mom”, always made me cringe when I was a newer mom.  I used to think if my child didn't play a sport, I was doing something wrong.  Now, I have four kids.  The term no longer has an effect on me because of things I've learned (and am still learning) about my children and being a mom.   My oldest child was friends with a bunch of boys who were all on the same soccer team, growing up.  He even joined the soccer team, at one point, only to lose desire before the first real game.  As the years passed, they gradually grew apart and he made new friends that had similar interests as he did.  Since then, I've learned that my son is more of a jack-of-all-trades, master of none kind of guy.  He loves trying new things all the time and can be very passionate about his current interest, but he's never content to just stay with one thing.  He's even learned some Japanese because of this quality.  (He's 12.)   This, I think, is a quandary for a lot of parents:  extra-curricular activities for their kids…  Which one do we sign them up for, if any? What if they change their minds? Do we make them do it? Are sports the only real option? If they don't play sports, how do we make sure they get enough physical activity?   According to an interview with Marianne Engle, Ph. D., sports psychologist and Clinical Assistant Professor at the NYU Child Study Center, “Research has shown that sports contribute to psychological well-being by reducing anxiety and depression and enhancing self-esteem. In sports kids find a social milieu that can promote a spirit of social interaction, cooperation and friendship. Sports help kids think critically and solve problems, build self-discipline, trust, respect for others, leadership ad coping skills, all of which form the foundation of character building. Sports have also been shown to improve academic and occupational outcomes, lower school dropout and deter delinquency. And, of course, sports develop the mind/body connection by strengthening the body and training the mind to use it for action and reaction.”   If I had read this when I was first starting out as a mother, I think I would've felt like an epic failure.  Thank goodness I've learned a thing or two, since then.  I have no doubt sports are a good thing, but I now know they're not the only thing kids can do to gain these great characteristics and life lessons.  For example, my daughter's the artist in the family.  She is so free-spirited, organized anything strikes a rebellious chord with her.  She isn't the most competitive person in the world and wouldn't do well in that type of setting.  She currently plays the viola and loves it.  For me, that's good enough.   So, how do we know which activity or sport to sign them up for? Activities also cost money... what if they start one thing and change their minds?   I have to tell you about a theory of mine – granted, it's just my meager opinion:  Children shouldn't get braces until their done growing.  I see it as a waste of time and money if you do it before their jaw is done developing.  Take them off (the braces); the child grows more, the teeth move, again, and you're back to square one.  Ask any orthodontist about this theory and they'll tell you that sometimes, getting braces at an early age is necessary for proper growth and development (ask me how I know...).  It's a worthwhile investment.   Ok, time for my genius comparison to extra-curricular activities:  Yes, it's time-consuming.  Yes, it takes money.  But sometimes it's necessary for proper growth and development.  How are you going to know what they'll enjoy if you don't try different things? Your children are worth the investment.   My two oldest kids did two days of karate.  Two days.  I thought this would be an excellent thing for them to do to develop the confidence and discipline I so desperately wanted them to have.  They hated it, though.  Should I have forced them? I don't think so.  (I was, fortunately, able to get my money back.) They've also done swimming lessons... enough to know how to not drown.   I want to give a shout-out to those with the lack of funds for these types of activities:  Been there, so done that.  Still doing it, in fact.  We currently only have one of four children in an extra-curricular activity.  My oldest, who also played the viola... for a whole year... currently plays a guitar.  My dad bought it for him.  My daughter now plays the viola, but we don't have to pay for that, monthly, as she does it through her school – and we rented the instrument.  (p.s. The schools have good programs for those who need financial assistance.)  In one of the cities I've lived in, the high school offered programs (for free – ha ha) because it was put on by the high school students.  Because of this, my daughter had two summers of gymnastics.  If you know where to look or know someone who does, you can find anything. So hang in there and don't feel bad – you're not alone.  And be creative.  ;)   My 4 year old, the one who's in an actual extra-curricular activity, is currently doing karate.  And we pretty much have to force him to go on a weekly basis.  Is this right? Will it benefit him? Maybe…maybe not.  We feel it will.  We also feel (hope, rather) that it will grow on him and someday he'll be a black-belted ninja with confidence and discipline that cannot be rivaled.  (Well, we hope he at least wants to continue with it after our six-month obligation is up.)   It's time for “IMHO” (in my humble opinion) (my favorite time).  I think, as parents, it's safe to say we know our children pretty well.  I think it's also safe to say we know what's best for them.  We want them to be happy, strong, well-rounded individuals.  How do we accomplish this? Is putting them in something that will cost money the only option? No, it's not.  We can play with them, go for bike rides, walk or hike, go swimming, do a yoga DVD from the library, together... the options are limitless.  We can even teach them something our own parents forced us to do as kids. I think it's a good idea to learn what their true interests are and let them explore their talents to see what they're good at or what they'll love.  Physical activities and being involved in something are important and build character.   And they're worth the investment.