Whether you are in the thick of it now or might be in the future, you may be wondering, how many are too many extracurricular activities? From sports to music, to theater, and more….our kids have an endless supply of excellent extracurricular activities at their fingertips. More than at any time in history! And this can be great. Research shows that extracurricular participation can lead to more character development, greater social skills, and higher community involvement. These are all things we can get on board with! So it may come as a surprise when access to these wonderful extracurriculars leads to entitlement in our kids.
Why, when we roll out the red carpet of extracurricular opportunities for our kids, can they become so quickly unappreciative and even demanding? Because, like every other privilege, boundaries are needed. It’s easy to unintentionally send a child the message that their extracurricular life is the family’s priority. They may even believe they have a right to pursue any extracurricular, regardless of cost, for as long as they want. And that you’ll ensure they have what they need, when they need it, each step of the way. If that’s the case, they’re not really investing themselves in their activities, they’re investing you in their activities.
Warding off the entitlement bug requires you to be thoughtful in your involvement in your child’s extracurriculars as you guide kids to feel more grateful and less entitled.
Why participate in extracurricular activities at all?
Ask your child, “Why do we participate in these activities?” The answer to this question is the basis for cultivating either a sense of entitlement or a sense of gratitude and grand purpose.
Your child might answer something like,
- “So I can have fun!”
- “So I can be with my friends.”
- “So I can get a college scholarship.”
- “So I can have better snacks than we have at home.” 😉
Each of these reasons is common, but you’ll notice that they are all self-focused.
This is why we invite you to reconsider your own reason for extracurricular involvement. Since God made us to be both recipients and dispensers of blessing, it is a great help to add another answer to why you encourage your child’s involvement: “So that we can be a blessing!”
That’s right! In the grand scheme of things, you are blessed with the opportunity of these activities so that you can be part of God’s plan to bless all people. Any extracurricular activity is an opportunity to grow skills to bless the world and is an opportunity to be a blessing right now. Once parents and kids alike embrace this idea, the underlying drive to participate is now a grander purpose than your own benefit.
The first key: What is your attitude?
It can be easy to get carried away by your child’s extracurricular activities. One of our mentors taught us early that one of the most loving things a parent can do to support their kids’ growth in extracurriculars is to stay away sometimes. That’s right. When we choose to not attend a game or performance, we send a message that communicates, “This is your thing, not ours.” This sets up an opportunity to connect as your child tells you all about it when they get home. The key is to let the kids participate and grow on their own terms.
Releasing yourself from owning your children’s activities means divorcing yourself from the emotions of success or failure. It means to participate just like any other spectator at the event. It means becoming aware of ways that you might be over-invested in your child’s success and failure.
If we had a nickel for every child we’ve heard of that burned out on sports or arts because of their over-zealous parents, we’d have a jar full by now. If this is a struggle for you, we invite you to stay away or sit in the back row. Remain silent. If you say anything at all, work toward having the words be about some positive aspect of your child’s participation.
The following statements can go a long way toward encouraging rather than discouraging your child:
- “I noticed how hard you concentrated!”
- “Your disappointment shows how important this is to you,”
- “I can see you’ve been working hard on that,”
- “I love to watch you do something you’re passionate about.”
Too many extracurriculars? A different perspective may make it easier to set some limits.
When it feels like life is being taken over by extracurricular activities and demands, take a step back and say something like, “Hmm, you know this activity no longer feels like a blessing to our family. In fact, I think it’s preventing us from connecting peacefully and serving others in some of the ways we usually care about.”
When there seem to be too many extracurricular activities piling up on the calendar, prioritizing serving others will make it easier to draw boundaries and have healthy discussions with your child. Your kids are watching how you use wisdom in these everyday decisions.
In our online course about the problem of Entitlement, we teach parents the importance of having the mindset to be a blessing wherever we go. After a presentation of this workshop for parents of teens, we opened up a time for Q&A. A mom eagerly raised her hand and asked, “What do I do about the guilt?” We asked her what the guilt was about. She responded, “I feel guilty that we have to miss so much church to be involved in extracurriculars!”
We addressed the guilt of missing church, suggesting that God’s purpose for guilty feelings is to help people know when they are out of alignment with God’s purposes. The mom quickly retorted, “Well, we’re not quitting the activities!”
Guided by God’s wisdom, we responded with hope, “Have you considered how you might take church to the activities?” “
Her face lit up. “You mean that thing about being a Blessing?”
“Yes! That’s it!”
“Well, how do we do that?”
That’s the question! Below are some ideas we shared with her.
4 practical tips to help your kids be a blessing in their extracurriculars
Below are four categories, with a few ideas in each, for how to reverse patterns that lead to entitlement and cultivate a sense of purpose and ownership in your kids. Pick one or two and start changing the momentum with modeling, proactive teaching, and lots of encouragement for any small steps of progress!
1. Instill helpful beliefs
Look below the surface to help kids embrace some essential beliefs about life:
- They are loved and valued, unrelated to their performance – even if they forget their lines, flub their song, or drop the ball and lose the game!
- All the other kids that participate are also valuable and precious to God, unrelated to their performance.
- Participation in any activity is a gift, not a right.
- Every activity is an opportunity to serve others and develop the character that will benefit them greatly in life.
2. Give kids ownership and responsibility
- Involve kids in the decision-making process and, if old enough, require them to contribute to costs.
- Help kids understand the money by setting budgets and buying used equipment when practical.
- Teach children to wash and care for their equipment. (Laundering uniforms, proper care of instruments, etc.)
- Give kids the responsibility to enter the activity into the family calendar.
- Put full responsibility on the kids to know what they need to do to be ready – and then leave on time with no nagging or repeated warnings. If kids aren’t ready on time, they miss their ride.
One mom’s story of her kids “owning” their sport
In downhill ski racing (which can be quite an expensive sport!), you might imagine that nearly every family is raising entitled kids. But that simply isn’t the case! Read this story from some long-time friends of Connected Families who raised three competitive skiers. By helping their kids “own” their sport, these parents helped equip them with the tools they will need to navigate life in the future. Here is their story:
When the boys started ski racing, we were aware of the life skills they could learn if we gave them some ownership and responsibility right from the beginning. First off, they couldn’t go to practice until their homework was done. (This taught discipline and time management.)
We had a list on the wall in the mud room with everything they needed to bring to practice. The boys were responsible for not only packing their own bags but also loading their ski equipment and backpacks into the car. (This taught organization, responsibility, and independence.) They never complained about the responsibility even though they saw most other parents carrying their children’s skis and/or backpacks to and from the car to the ski rack, etc.
When the kids were at the right age, they were eager to take on learning how to take care of their equipment (waxing/sharpening, etc.) On certain occasions, if someone was trying to get homework done or study for a test, we would step in to help them with their stuff. But they have truly “owned” their sport since they were young.
Over the years, we have seen the boys be a blessing to others in many ways. They are good to their peers and the younger ones, are helpful, and respect their coaches. They never snuck out of practice early (even when it was really cold) to avoid after-practice responsibilities like helping coaches carry gates off the hill, etc. The life skills of discipline and time management that they learned while participating in skiing have carried over into all areas of life!
3. Mentor helpfulness and gratitude
It’s important not to criticize or shame kids because it will probably make the issue worse, not better. Modeling and joining your child in serving are your most powerful tools!
- When called on to be a parent volunteer, do so joyfully and involve your child if possible.
- Guide your kids to leave the activity space better than you found it, and talk about how much better it will be for others.
- Help set up and clean up for practices/rehearsals/lessons, and make it fun!
- With your child, look for opportunities to help teammates with anything from skills, rides, snacks, and funding.
- Make a habit (you and your kids) of writing thank you notes to the coach, instructor, or leader.
…whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. 1 Corinthians 10:31
4. Cultivate respect
- Teach kids to honor their coaches/teachers by looking them in the eye, listening carefully, and following through on instructions without complaint.
- Let kids know that participating means they work hard even when they don’t get the opportunities they want or think they deserve.
- Have conversations with kids about how they might respond when they or another participant gets injured, feels sad about their performance, or even causes the team to lose.
- Have conversations about how to respond to the winner, even if your child is deeply disappointed. Then when disappointment happens, “I know you’re really upset about how this went. I get it. We can talk about that in a little bit, but now is the time to go over and congratulate the winner!”
- Encourage and support kids when you see them show respect and compassion.
As you gradually weave these others-centered values into your participation, it will build eternal perspective and values in your kids! You also might stop thinking so much about whether or not your child participates in too many extracurricular activities. They might be. But as you root yourselves in an others-centered approach to extracurricular activities, that will become clearer, and your child’s involvement with what remains will be more beneficial for all.
To learn more, register for our online course, The Entitlement Fix: Growing Hard Work and Gratitude In Your Kids. This fast-paced,4-session course is designed to give parents a solid strategy for stamping out entitled attitudes and move toward greater meaning in life. Join us today! At $23, we believe this is a fantastic value. If this is still out of your reach, request a scholarship.