My oldest daughter has always excelled at almost every sport that she has tried. So, when my wife and I are asked, “How will you choose what sport she does next,” our answer is usually a blank stare for a second and then a quick response of “We’re still considering it.” This conundrum of a child who excels in many things and parents who are concerned about their child spreading herself or himself too thin is an issue that many parents have to face. While dealing with it isn’t easy for the parent or for the child, there are some practical approaches that can offer some help.
The hardest part for me as a father with this is that I want to allow my daughter to excel at the things that she can. At the same time, though, I know that if she’s going to reach her potential at whatever she chooses in life, she’s often going to have to choose to focus on a few areas and excel in those instead of trying to do everything and just be OK in all of them.
What has been helpful to me with this process is thinking back to my own experience growing up. I focused on music and acting, and I put myself out there in a few different areas in this capacity. I took trumpet lessons, acted in musicals, and sang in a few music groups. I balanced a lot of things and wore a lot of hats, and I think that for me, at least, helped me become a better all-around student. And I have to thank my own parents for pushing me to continue, to practice, and to get better, because without this support I don’t know if I would have pushed myself as hard as I did.
Drawing on this lesson as a parent, I want to do the same for my own kids, giving them choices and allowing them to make decisions about what works best for them, but also helping and supporting them in their decisions. I know that there will be difficult choices for them, that the successes will be invaluable in them becoming leaders and building self-esteem, and that the failures will be a part of success that will prepare them for the more serious challenges they’ll face later in life.
So how do we ultimately choose activities for our children? For my wife and me, I think it’s a decision that we mostly make ourselves for now. But as my kids have gotten older and advanced in school, we’ve gradually begun having more family meetings and giving them some independence to make choices in what they would like to do. The critical thing, though, is that we make it very clear that school work comes first, and that they consequently can only choose a select number of activities to take part in so they can balance their time. Importantly, if their school work suffers, their activities will have to be cut back. So far, the family meetings and decision process have not been difficult yet because my daughters are still quite young. But these will inevitably become trickier as my girls get older, and school and life become more demanding.
Have you had a similar experience with your children? What is your process for deciding what activities your kids participate in when they’re good at most things? I would love to get your comments.