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How to have more fulfilling after-school activities.

As a mother of two girls and karate coach, I have had the frustrations and joys of having my daughters participate in various activities. They are 12 and 13 now and have finally eased into their chosen after-school activities.

As much as I wanted to see them on a swim team- they both hated it. Soccer didn’t take either and my youngest flat out refused to play for more than a season. To my excitement, they enjoy piano and voice and practice on their own. They tolerate karate and could do without the physical exertion, but have told us they always feel good after class. So what can we do to set up our children for a successful experience? Here are some things I have learned along the bumpy road of the after-school activity scene.

1. Do your homework about who will be teaching the class.

When your children go to school you have no choice as to who their teacher will be. With after-school activities you have a little more freedom and can choose which studio, league you want your child to attend. Don’t take this responsibility lightly. I believe all children are better off the more positive adult role models they are exposed to. An awesome teacher or coach can make all the difference. My youngest loves dancing but was “meh” when it came to her actual lessons. After a little digging, I realized a pattern of her teacher being absent or late. This didn’t inspire a lot of trust in her from the kids. There was a void where there should have been someone there to inspire the budding dancers.

2. Make sure they are fed (lightly) before their practice or game.

It is a terrible feeling to think that your child may be hungry, however, your child may feel terrible if they are too full before their activity. Although you’d like your child to eat sometime before 8:30 pm, take fast food off your radar. Pretend fast food is not even an option. You will be sabotaging all the benefits of physical activity when you allow your child to eat processed food. Have them eat a snack of “ants on a log” or cheese, beef jerky and apple slices. In a pinch, these snacks can be considered a light meal. A quick lunchmeat turkey wrap will suffice for dinner. If you are having a weak moment think about all the sugar, carbs, and trans fats your child has already consumed that day- bowl of cereal for breakfast (terrible), granola bar for snack(all sugar), Gatorade and pizza for lunch(ugh), cupcake or donut to celebrate a classmates birthday(carbs and more sugar). Remember that a clean diet = a healthy gut = less embarrassing flatulent episodes.

3. Plan ahead and increase your chances of being on time.

In a perfect world, your child would prepare his 15 pieces of hockey equipment before you are rushing to get to practice. Depending on the age of your child, you may be the one washing and placing the karate uniform in the pre-appointed gear bag the night before or the morning of. As they get older they will do it themselves. Let them find out the hard way if they forget their karate belt or piano music.

4. Be as consistent as possible.

Consistency is so important for your child to feel connected to the group or team. I have been so tired some days and it would’ve been so easy to skip the lesson because I didn’t feel like I could get them ready and out the door. Of course, they can’t participate when sick but if they miss a class or practice, contact the teacher or coach and see if there is anything at home they can do to keep their skills up. Children like to be able to keep up with the group and don’t want to fall behind.

5. Use consequences for bad behavior but keep their activity time sacred.

I know it is tempting to take the thing away that they love to teach them a lesson. Please don’t give in to this temptation. Their activities are an outlet for their energy, the physical activity releases endorphins which puts them in a better mood, it allows them socialization time outside of school, and can tap into their creative brain. Screen time is always the first thing my husband and I take away because we believe it is the number one thing contributing to bad behavior. Show me a child that has limited screen time and I will show you a well-behaved child.

"Forget about greatness or perfection- let them enjoy themselves and allow that to be good enough."

6. Leave the coaching up to the coach or teacher.

I have been guilty of this so many times. I remember suggesting to my youngest that she try to smile during her dance recital. I used to tell my oldest to run faster at soccer games. Not cool. So forget about greatness or perfection- let them enjoy themselves and allow that to be good enough. After practice or class, instead of telling them what they should have done, take a deep breath and tell them how much you enjoy watching them do their thing. Tell them it makes you happy to see them involved in their thing. When they are banging on the piano keys at 7:00 am, in the most polite voice you can muster say, “I love to hear you play- it sounded great!”

Let me know how you make after school activities successful for your family! Please leave a comment below and tell me what's up. Or share on facebook, twitter, or instagram.


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