When my kids were toddlers, they were not interested in doing anything other than running, biking and playing with other kids on our dead-end street. I took them on play dates, picnics and outings daily. I naturally thought this meant they would love organized sports or clubs, but they wanted no part in any of it.
I began to feel super concerned that their disinterest in extracurricular activities was somehow going to mess with their development and social skills. But after trying over and over with no success, I took a step back to really think about why I was feeling this way.
I realized it was because so many of their friends were playing up to three sports since they were 3, sometimes younger. Parents were signing their kids up for things like private skiing, skating and tennis lessons before they even started school. It was hard to look around and see how many toddlers and preschoolers were involved in so many things my kids were not. It was hard not to feel like I was depriving my children of something.
But here's the thing: Other kids seemed to love it and it was the right decision for them. But for us, it wasn't. And looking back, I wish I had relaxed about it.
Having little kids is hard and exhausting enough without have to plead, beg and bribe a 4-year-old to get out of the car for soccer practice. They embarrass us on the regular, so we don't need them yelling to us from the baseball field about how much they hate their life and refuse to run the bases. I couldn't do it to my kids and I couldn't do it to myself. This was supposed to be a fun learning experience, not torture.
It's so easy to look outside for our answers instead of asking ourselves what feels right to us.
So, we didn't do any of it. They loved art club, story and craft time at the library, but when it came to organized extracurricular activities, it was a big fat nope. Forcing extracurricular activities not only affected my kids, it also affected the rest of the kids who were in love with what they were doing. Plus, young children, especially, need time to play, explore and do nothing.
"We may see sitting on a blanket in the yard, looking at the clouds as a waste of time," Dorothy Sluss, associate professor of elementary and early childhood education at James Madison University, told PBS. "But children view that as a time to wonder, to grow. That’s when they develop and have sensory stimulation."
When I pulled the plug, you know what happened? Absolutely nothing. In fact, as my kids got older, they have all found their niche. My oldest played almost every sport when he entered elementary school and has settled on skiing. My daughter has stuck with basketball and lacrosse through junior high, and my youngest is madly in love with science. Sports aren't his thing and that is OK.
So, yeah, forcing them to start lessons at a young age didn't make them anymore interested, but leaving them alone didn't hinder their excitement down the road either.
Taking a step back was the right thing for us and even though it took me some time to come to this decision, I'm glad I did. Sometimes we see see a majority of moms doing something and we feel we should too, even though we know in our gut that it's not the right fit for us and our family. It's so easy to look outside for our answers instead of asking ourselves what feels right to us.
So, whether it has to do with sports, how you do the holidays or dinnertime, do what works for you. Because that's always the right decision.
Toddlers are full of life and hilarious observations. They’re also full of far too much energy and impatience, which is why running errands with them is up there with the middle seat in the back row of a plane: An evil necessity that only seems to happen to bad, bad people. For those times when you must take your toddler into the wild, here is your survival guide. Good luck, and Godspeed.