Sign up

Extracurricular activities: communicating expectations

Soccer, swimming, karate, violin lessons – no matter the activity, you are not alone if you find yourself trapped in a battle about going to the activity, which, one month ago, they begged you to do. I’ve been coaching families for 20 years, and this has always been a challenge. Now, after COVID, it feels even bigger. The kids aren’t alone! I know so many adults that are just not that interested in heading out to an activity anymore.

Yet, there are amazing programs being run for kids everywhere! Sometimes they’re optional. Sometimes, we need our kids to attend for childcare purposes or because we feel it’s important that they are learning a specific skill or to be part of a team.

Once you are clear about what activities fit your family, it’s time to figure out your family’s rules about attending activities.

My child chose the activity

Sometimes your child may come running into the house, saying “can I play soccer? My friend is playing on Tuesdays and I want to play too, I love soccer!” 

In these scenarios, it can feel doubly maddening when, after they begged you to start, you find yourself on the end of complaints and pleading. “Please don’t make me go to soccer!”

  1. Be clear about the rules before you register for any activity and communicate them clearly to your child. Have them say the rules back to you. These rules could be (but do not have to be): 
  • We expect you to go to the activity and participate unless you are very sick.
  • We expect you to pack your bag for the activity the night before (if applicable)
  • We expect you to do what’s required (practicing the music piece, for example) so that you are prepared for the activity.
  • If you have a conflict, we will need to discuss it ahead of time and decide whether or not it is reasonable. (You may want to put older children in charge of informing their coach or instructor about their absence.) 
  1. Be clear about how often they need to go before they change their mind
  • You are registered for three months of this activity. If you don’t love it, we don’t have to register again, but the plan is for you to go and participate during those three months.

You chose the activity

Many of my clients sign their kids up for swimming lessons every year for safety reasons. The children might not love getting their ears wet, but it’s important for them to learn how to survive in and around the water.

  • Be clear about the expectations for these lessons and explain why you signed them up.
  • If kids are frightened, work with them to find courage and make baby steps forward.
  • Acknowledge feelings and support them in finding a way to move forward.
  • If they ask you to be with them, communicate that you will be on the pool deck for the first lesson (if allowed) then you will wean yourself away (five minutes the second lesson, two minutes the next lesson, etc.).

Packing their own bag

Young kids love to be helpful, and children of all ages can learn to be responsible for their own things. Make a list, with your child, of the things they’ll need for the activity: indoor shoes, uniform, etc.

If your child cannot yet read, ask them to draw pictures of the items, and you put the word beside the picture. Then, schedule a time the night before the event to have them use the list to help you pack the bag.

You may have to do it with them at first (or always, if your child is very young), but let them help you at the beginning, and then show you their packed bag as they gain confidence. Depending on their age, help them get the bag to the car or have them do that on their own. Older children will quickly learn that if they forget something, they will not be able to participate fully. 

Don’t rescue them by bringing it to them! They can survive a day of learning.

Getting your child to practice 

Arguing over practice (piano, learning a script, dribbling skills) can become a habit, and all habits can be changed. They won’t be changed in the heat of the moment, though! It will require some planning by parents and some work as a family.

  • Get an understanding of the requirements between formal practices from the coach or instructor.
  • Look at the schedule – when is a good time to practice?
  • Plan a meeting with your child to develop a schedule for practice. How long each day? What skills need to be practiced?
  • Create a clear list of what is to be done. Some kids love checklists. This is not a reward chart (the reward is improving)! They could certainly use stickers on the chart, though, to keep track of the fact that they are getting the job done.
  • Ask the child to choose the order of practice to be done (if applicable). 
  • Often, a child’s wish for perfection will get in the way of practicing. Encourage them to find the courage to make mistakes each day.
  • It’s not the parent’s job to practice. That said, your child may be fighting about practicing to get your attention. If your child seems to enjoy your company while practicing, plan to sit in the room and read, draw or work on your own projects while your child practices. Talk about facts rather than feelings: “I noticed you did that scale three times and you were a little faster than yesterday. Good job!”
  • Ultimately, it’s about creating a pattern of small successes, and courage rather than arguments. 

Fighting about activities isn’t worth it. When misbehaviors happen, it is kids showing us that they need to learn a new way to do things. Arguments about activities are an indicator that we need to come together as a family and figure out a way to teach a new way of being for all members of the family. Need help? Give me a call!

Author, blogger, podcast host and parenting expert, Julie Freedman Smith has been supporting parents across North America for 20 years. Through her company JFS Parent Education, she helps parents find relief from their everyday parenting challenges. Want to know how she can help you? Email her today: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


See our related stories:

Calgary’s Child Magazine © 2023 Calgary’s Child