After School Activities
Children often do a large number of after-school or nursery classes. It is a very personal thing to judge how many they should do and what suits the individual child. It might be worth asking yourself, ‘Am I taking my child to this class because it’s something she will find enriching and valuable, or is it really out of fear of her missing out?’ Sometimes we make the decision to do extra classes that aren't really based on the needs of that specific child. There is a lot of evidence to show that unstructured time at home is really valuable for children’s development, and allowing them (heaven forbid!) to get bored lets the imagination kick in.
I often get asked by parents whether they should make their child continue a class, despite the fact the child isn't enjoying it and wants to give up. They want to know if she will enjoy it eventually or are they making her miserable for no good reason. There aren’t hard and fast rules about this, but it’s very important to get to the bottom of what they don’t like about the class. You may find it helpful to investigate the problem by asking some of the questions below:
- I am wondering if it’s the teacher you don’t like? Or is it because you don’t know many other children?
- Do you feel too hot/cold when you’re there?
- Do you worry that I won’t be on time to collect you?
- Maybe it feels like a long time and that it will never end?
- Perhaps you don’t feel you can do it as well as some of the other children?
- Maybe a special snack would help or we could plan a special treat for after the class?
Once you have clarified what the issues are, you can often find solutions without having to stop the activity altogether. Some solutions are:
- Arrive a bit early to chat to the teacher and explain that your child is struggling. Ask if they could give your child a bit of extra, positive attention or maybe a ‘special helper’ job.
- Supply the right clothing. Sometimes something as small as an itchy label or tight shorts can put them off.
- Show them the clock to indicate what time the class starts and ends, and arrive early to either watch the last five minutes or to make sure you are there when they come out.
- Suggest to one of the other parents that you do a playdate before or after the class to help the children get to know each other. This could be something as simple as a quick play in the park or a hot chocolate in a nearby café.
- Practise the skill required away from the class. With swimming, for example, go to the pool at the weekend and have some fun time in the water, and encourage your child to show you what she has learnt at the class.
- Make a tasty snack bag with something special that they don’t usually have as a snack, which is exclusively for taking to this particular class.
We have had many requests over the years from our children to give things up. Below are two stories: one about sticking with an activity and the other about respecting the child’s decision to stop.
Nico (aged 5 at the time) decided he hated his swimming lessons. He cried and made a huge fuss before the lessons, and made my life very difficult over it. I wanted him to continue because I believe that learning to swim is essential and he usually came out of the lessons fairly cheerful.
I decided to try to get to the bottom of the problem. I asked him what it was about swimming that he disliked most. At first he said ‘everything’. Then I gently questioned some more saying, ‘maybe it is the teacher or the pool or the changing room…?’ ‘I don’t want the other boys to see my bottom’, he blurted out. ‘Oh ok, so you’d like some more privacy when you change?’ ‘Yes!’
It turned out that he didn’t like the communal changing rooms and the communal showers at the end. We made a plan to get there a bit earlier and find a changing room at the side. Then, at the end of the lesson, he could put his hooded towel over his swimming trunks and shower at home. We also made friends with another little boy, and his mother and I agreed that afterwards they could have a play at the side of the car park with a ball. The complaints stopped completely and, interestingly, he forgot about his need for privacy and started happily changing with everyone else.
Alice loves gymnastics and goes to a gym classes after school. Aged 7 she was also in the school gym squad. She had frequently said that she wanted to leave the squad, but I had mixed feelings about this. Being in the squad meant she represented the school in competitions and could feel really proud of herself. However, that didn’t seem to make a difference to her and she repeatedly told me that she didn’t like the teacher and didn’t want to continue. After many attempts to find a solution, including enlisting the head of sport to talk to the teacher to try to inspire Alice, letting her have a friend for tea afterwards as an incentive, giving her a week or so off to rest, we realised she just wasn’t happy. We recognised the need to listen to her feelings and respect her decision to stop. Just after she stopped the school classes, her friend marched up to me and announced, ‘Now Alice has quit gym, I’ve taken her place and I’m going to go to all the competitions!’ I was worried about how Alice would react to the news, so I was very surprised, when I mentioned it to her later, that she said simply, ‘Yes, I know, and I’m still glad that I’m not going any more’. I was able to praise her for her decisiveness and her grace to not feel envious of her friend taking her place.