How to find balance with your child’s extracurricular activities

Real So Cal Soccer teams from the Santa Clarita Valley and Santa Monica scrimmage at Central Park. Dan Watson/The Signal
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As a parent, you want the best for your child. It’s natural to want your child to learn valuable skills, get along with their peers, gain confidence, find interests and try new things — you want to give them every opportunity possible.  

Whether they’re playing a sport or an instrument or acting in a play, extracurricular activities often become the center of a child’s life.

“Children and adolescents are faced with not only the incredible pressure at school, but now have activities planned everyday, leaving them no time for play, relaxation and family time,” said Amanda Hills, a licensed clinical social worker who specializes in children and adolescents. “Children learn about the world through play, and without this balance, they will demonstrate higher levels of stress and anxiety.”

As a child grows older and begins to specialize in some of the many activities they’re involved in, parents often will give them a nudge towards the decision they think is correct, trying their best to find the delicate balance between encouraging and pushing too hard, according to Larry Schallert, assistant director of College of the Canyons’ Student Health and Wellness/Mental Health Program.

Parents watch on the sidelines at Central Park in Saugus. Dan Watson/The Signal

“It’s important for coaches and parents to understand the difference and the effects of positive and negative motivation,” said Nila Karimzai, an outreach specialist at the Child & Family Center’s Domestic Violence Program. “70 percent of children are dropping out of organized sports by the age of 13 due to bullying from their parents.”

Club president of the Futbol Foundation of Santa Clarita Luciano Pilato says he sees this behavior a lot. FFSC has strict guidelines when it comes to sideline behavior, according to Pilato, and he has had to expel quite a few parents from the field.

“For me, soccer is about the players, and the spectators are there to enjoy it with the players and not be the focus of the game,” Pilato said. “As long as they’re cheering them on, I’m fine with it, but as soon as it starts to affect the players or the game, I will step up and stop it.”

Fortunately, Pilato says that more often than not, a parent realizes their mistake and is accountable for their actions.

“Nowadays, there is so much focus on making kids successful that it becomes a machine that is constantly being driven,” said Dr. Greg Hamlin, clinical psychologist at Steps and Tools. “Family life is always driven for the next soccer practice, the next dance lesson.”

Real So Cal Soccer teams from the Santa Clarita Valley and Santa Monica scrimmage at Central Park. Dan Watson/The Signal

Building in down time and relationship building time with your kids can help alleviate this, according to Dr. Amy Warren Psy.D, clinical psychologist at the Child & Family Center.

“Maintaining those things they do together as a family that aren’t related to skill building or obtaining something,” Warren said. “Enjoying the relationship as opposed to have an end goal in mind. That’s an opportunity for learning, as well.”

One of the most important factors in being able to avoid putting extra pressure on your children, but still encouraging them to push themselves in a healthy way, is to recognize their stress levels.

“While parents may really want to see their child succeed, they also need to keep an eye on the level of stress that it’s putting the child under and make sure that they are taking on the role of managing their child’s stress,” Warren said. “Modeling appropriate coping skills is really important for a parent. When they notice those symptoms, they may need to adjust their child’s schedule or take a step back.”

Hamlin agrees and reminds parents to remember what is “age-appropriate.”

“There’s a level of stress that a 15-year-old can handle that a 9-year-old shouldn’t be expected to handle,” Dr. Hamlin said. “Make sure the things you are suggesting or insisting upon are age appropriate and fit the stress tolerance level of that age group.”

These stresses don’t just disappear as they get older, and according to Schallert, students continue to face these pressures well into adulthood if they aren’t addressed properly.

Parents watch on the sidelines at Central Park in Saugus. Dan Watson/The Signal

One way to ensure that you can recognize when your child is feeling stressed is to ensure you have an open relationship with your child, according to Warren.

“Maintaining an openness and increasing open dialogue can allow parents to make sure whatever the child is involved in is something they continue to have a desire to do,” Warren said. “Being able to express worries or concerns and having the parent be able to hear them is important.”

Karimzai suggests that parents also need to remember to set an example so children are able to conquer real and healthy success.

“Most importantly become a positive role model and mentor,” Karimzai said. “Mentors should verbalize when they notice good effort with words of encouragement and support. Helping mentees build self-esteem and self-confidence is a crucial part of mentorship.”

Part of mentorship is also facilitating the idea that it’s okay to fail, and according to Dr. Hamlin, helping kids realize that even if they aren’t the best, it still makes them feel good and that’s okay.

Parents cheer on the sidelines as their team scores at Central Park in Saugus. Dan Watson/The Signal

“Children need to understand that their self worth isn’t based on their abilities to succeed in one thing,” Warren said. “The value that they have exceeds beyond their ability in a sport or musical instrument, and they’re loved no matter what.”

Hamlin believes there are plenty of healthy ways to encourage your child to try something new.

“Tell your child: ‘I want you to try this, but once you try it if you don’t want to do it anymore then you don’t have to,’” Hamlin said. “It avoids a child having a narrow scope and not really knowing what they’re saying no to without trying it, but gives them much needed time to experiment.”

Schallert believes that extracurricular activities have great benefits for the development of children, but ensuring that your child doesn’t have every moment scheduled is also vital. It’s a good idea to limit the number of activities that your children participate in one to two activities at a time.

“It’s got to be in moderation,” Schallert said. “Making sure they don’t have an activity planned every day is important so you still have some time for family, and family time is as important as these extracurricular activities.”

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