Raising well-rounded kids means encouraging them to be who they are, explore their interests, build confidence and engage with others and their world. It does not mean participating in any and all activities just to add them to a list of accomplishments. It can be a difficult balancing act but here are some tips.
1. Engage in various activities. Different activities help children learn various skills. Exposure to art, music and dance fosters creativity. Involvement in sports helps develop teamwork, competitiveness and good sportsmanship. Engaging in volunteer activities builds empathy and concern for the greater good.
2. Try activities informally. Children do not need to participate in scheduled activities to discover their interests. Take a family outing ice skating or swimming. Create an art project at home. You will get a sense of what types of activities your child enjoys while spending quality family time.
3. Encourage special talents. This is about your children, not you. Each child has different interests. Encourage them to pursue their unique talents. This will enhance their self- confidence and help their social interactions by allowing connections with others similar to them.
4. Allow choices. Children, like adults, are more likely to engage in and enjoy activities they choose, rather than feel like their interests are being dictated to them. You can set the expectation that they will participate in a sport yet allow them the choice of sport.
5. Focus on effort. Children who believe success is due to innate abilities are less likely to take on new challenges than children who believe success is due to hard work. Praise practice and effort rather than the outcome.
6. Avoid “helicopter” parenting. Children learn patience, dedication and frustration tolerance by trying new things and experiencing setbacks. Resist the impulse to “fix it” and instead help your child learn to problem-solve and cope with challenges.
7. Make time for unstructured play. Children do not need to be entertained every minute of every day. They need space to be creative and learn self-entertainment. It is amazing what kids can do with something as simple as a cardboard box.
8. Have quiet time. This is not the same as unstructured play. Time to relax and regroup facilitates emotional regulation and self-care. Even if your child is too old for a nap, some quiet time each day is important.
9. Listen. Observe your child’s behaviors and talk with him. If he is screaming during swim class, maybe he is tired and needs a break. Ask her what she likes and doesn’t like about various activities. This will help children begin to form their own identities.
10. Set an example. You want your children to be open to trying different things and experiences, so be a role model. Let them see you trying something new—or, better yet, do it together.
* This article first appeared in the spring 2014 issue of the Parent-To-Parent newsletter of the Neighborhood Parents Network (NPN).