Raising kids is hard work. And the only thing harder then raising kids, I think, is being a kid.

Our children are bombarded with messages from the media, and their peers, about what they are supposed to like, how they are supposed to dress and what opinions they should have.  It is very important to teach our children a sense of “self” so they can not only form their own beliefs but feel secure enough in who they are to stick to them.

In my personal experience, both in my childhood and the childhood I am now guiding my own “special” girls through, I have found that the most important thing you can do for your kids is to help them find something in which to excel.

But, how do you do that?  There are so many sports and programs and opportunities out there, where do you start?

There are a few things to consider when choosing an activity:

Talk with your child

Just because your child enjoys something, it doesn’t mean that he wants to play it.  Maybe the enjoyment he gets watching Rugby with Dad is more the time spent with Dad than the actual sport itself.

Stick to it

Make it clear that when they sign up, they are committed for the entire length of the program.  Even if they don’t like it, letting them quit a few practices/lessons into it is not the answer.  You never know, maybe they’ll fall in love with it later.  Also, sticking things out is a skill they’re going to need as an adult.  While the horrible 6 months with the clarinet will be long forgotten, the values learned in fulfilling their obligation will stick with them forever.

Pick one sport a season

Putting your child in an organized group for every interest he has will quickly lead to fatigue.  Kids need down time, too.  Let your child experience life lessons that are only learned through unstructured play time.
Take some time off~ don’t be afraid to put a halt to extra-curricular activities if needed.  When grades start to slip, attitudes become unbearable or your child simply can’t handle it, it may be time to take a season off.  Some children take longer to mature and may need an extra year or two before they are able to participate.

Stick to your guns

My twins have several physical problems spanning the spectrum from balance to muscle tone and I have found dance to be the best therapy for them.  While they sometimes think it is “too hard” to go on, I know better.  Sometimes kids get lazy, discouraged or bored with their chosen activity and that is when we need to step in and push them over the hump.  Tell them that you know they are frustrated with the situation at the moment but they need to stick it out for right now.  Offer to revisit that decision in 6 months.  This is especially important when your child has shown a real talent in what they want to give up.  Trust me, they will thank you later.

Helping your child find their talent has a steep learning curve.  There will be surprises and disappointments but it is important that we walk them through the process no matter how long it takes.  After all, if we aren’t their biggest cheerleaders, who will fill that spot?