Signing up kids for extracurriculars? Consider adding a "class" on kindness

The arrival of spring doesn't just bring out buds on trees. It's also the "season" of signing up for extracurricular spring/summer activities as well as a final "push" at school (there's under 3 months till summer break!). This week, many of my favourite mommy vloggers and bloggers (@kellybourne & @catandnat to a name just two) were talking about the decisions families face around signing up kids for activities - should we or shouldn't we sign up? what should we sign up for? 

To try and alleviate any stress you may be feeling, I thought it would be helpful to share some recent research about the impact parental pressure about school and extracurriculars can have on children and what we should be focusing on instead. 

The basic findings are that as parents we "shouldn't obsess over grades and extracurricular activities for young schoolchildren" as these ambitions can come at the expense of our children's well-being and success later in life.  Rather, we should be emphasizing kindness and respect for others as much as or more than getting good grades and doing well in extracurriculars. 

Here's the Main Dish About the Research: 

  • The study was with 506 middle school students from an affluent community and focused on children's perceptions of what their parents valued. 
  • Children were asked to rank the top 3 out of a list of 6 things their parents' valued for them. Three of the values were about personal success (e..g, getting good grades) and the other three were about kindness and decency towards others.  
  • This ranking was compared to children's school performance (grade point average) and actions (in-class behaviors). 
  • The best outcomes were for children who perceived their parents as each valuing kindness toward others as much as, or more than, achievements. Children who perceived either their mother or father valuing achievements more highly than they valued being kind to others experienced more internalizing symptoms (depression and anxiety), externalizing or acting out behaviours and lower self-esteem, as well as more parental criticism. Interestingly these students also had lower GPAs (!), and were reported by teachers to have more learning problems and disruptive behaviour at school. Even having a disproportionate focus on achievement from either parent was harmful. 

What does this mean for you? 

  • The key for those of us raising kids is providing a balance between emphasizing achievement in school and extracurriculars as well as well-being, kindness and compassion. It's about personal success but also about caring for others.
  • We can model this not only through our words, but also how we behave towards ourselves. Commenting not only on your child's performance and compassion about others, but also on your own can signal to children what you value.
  • Reading books is always a great way to start a conversation about kindness and compassion to others. Here are some great book lists to get you started:

So don't stress about those extracurriculars too much. If you do end up signing up, be sure to talk to your kids how to be kind and compassionate to others both on a off the field/pitch/pool.