Friday, March 26, 2010

On Kids and Extracurricular Activities

Ryan has decided to stop doing Taekwondo for a while. It was an interesting development, parenting-wise, and it affected me personally in some unexpected ways.

You may recall that he and I struck a deal back in January for going to TKD. He had been balking and delaying every time he needed to get ready for class. I was sick of getting myself and the other two kids ready to go to his class, only to then have to struggle with him about going. I was worried, too, that he was getting bored or burned out with TKD.

We agreed that he would attend class on Mondays and Wednesdays, leaving the other two days optional. On the optional days, he would decide yea or nay in plenty of time for me to make my arrangements. On non-optional days, he would get ready for class promptly and without argument.

Our agreement worked pretty well, actually. He'd ask me, "Is this an optional day?" and if it wasn't, he'd go get ready for class, usually. Sometimes he went to optional days; sometimes not.

Toward the end of February, he'd started to balk about going again, partly because (sometimes) the weather was nice, and he'd be outside playing with his friends. If he wasn't playing with his friends, going was no problem. But if his friends were over, ugh.

Before I wrote the check for March, I sat down with him and explained that it still really looked to me like he didn't want to go, that he'd been arguing and I wanted to make sure he really, really wanted to go to TKD before I paid the fee for the month. I explained about the money, and how it was okay if he wanted to stop, but that I felt upset when I paid money for something he argued about going to. We looked over the calendar, agreed on optional versus non-optional days of the week, and agreed that should he choose not to honor this agreement then I would not pay for April (essentially, I'd be making his decision to quit for him by withdrawing my support for the endeavor). He agreed to the terms and I paid the fee.

And then he argued and stalled, almost every time. Sigh. The weather was too nice, his friends too available and too not-also-in-TKD, and it was too hard. One afternoon, after he'd agreed to go, he refused to get ready, and I'd had it. We had a discussion in which I told him (to the best of my memory, Kelly was there; maybe she remembers it better than I do):

  • That I couldn't take it any more and that if he didn't go that afternoon, then he was going to have to stop TKD for a while starting that day and on into at least the month of April.
  • That I was fine with his quitting or taking a break from TKD, but that I was no longer willing to struggle with him over this.
  • That I was disappointed that he broke our agreement, that he'd probably feel disappointed and angry if I'd agreed to take him but then refused to drive him over there at the last minute.
  • That I'd be hesitant to make such agreements with him in the future if he didn't stick to our agreement for March.

I wasn't yelling at him, but he could tell that I was upset. I tried to communicate that I was upset about the agreement-breaking and frustrated about our struggle, but that I was not and would not be upset if he didn't want to do TKD any more. I hope I was successful at this; I really don't know. I did my best though.

He thought about it for a while, sighed, and said that he did want to stop TKD. And what a weight lifted from two sets of shoulders, I think!

Over the last week or so, since this discussion occurred, we've talked about his decision here and there. He says that it's hard when he has two fun things he wants to do--play with his friends and go to TKD. And for now, he wants to play with his friends more than he wants to go to TKD. He misses the friends he's made at TKD (he'll see one this weekend, at Morgan's birthday party), but as of this writing, he has told me he wants to go back for the summer session, when the school has morning classes, which would be easier for all of us. Whether or not we do this remains to be seen. I'm willing to re-evaluate going once I know the summer schedule. I have no idea if he'll want to go back.

What was unexpected to me is not that he'd end up taking a break from TKD. I could see that was the path we were heading down. No surprise.

But I was unexpectedly so SAD about his decision. This was HIS activity, but I was the one feeling so sad about it. It's not that I expected him to be Mr. Junior TKD Olympics guy, or think that if he only gets to blue belt then something will be forever missing from his life. I mean, I'm proud of his accomplishments in TKD--but it's not the pride of something I accomplished--it's the happiness that comes from seeing him experience his own pride, if you know what I mean.

I really had to sit down and think about why I was feeling this way, because it made no sense to me. I figured out two reasons. The first reason is that I was sad I wouldn't be seeing MY TKD friends! (Waving to you, if you're reading this!) There are a lot of nice Moms and Dads who hang out in the TKD waiting room, and that was an aspect of this extracurricular activity that made it fun for me. Little Seanie has been going to TKD since he was 3 months old, so everyone has known him for practically his whole life. And Morgan has made friends, too (especially one really nice girl who is very close to her in age, and who will be at her birthday party). But thankfully, we all have Facebook, so I don't necessarily need to lose touch with my friends. Looking back, I felt this way after Morgan's ballet class ended, but I've stayed in touch with some of those moms, too.

The second, bigger reason I felt sad is because the guy who owns and runs the TKD school is SUCH a great guy, and has been a real influence for the good on Ryan. I just can't say enough great things about him. He is kind to the kids, and encourages them to work through problems, talks to them as if they are people to be respected (and doesn't talk down to them as sometimes teachers do). And he "gets" Ryan. I am sad that Mr. H. won't be as present in Ryan's life, but I also know that Ryan will meet other adults (and peers) who will also enhance his life in meaningful ways. I will be taking Ryan in to the school soon to talk to Mr. H. because Mr. H. wanted to tell Ryan how happy he was that Ryan was part of his school. He's not going to try to guilt-trip him into returning; that's not how Mr. H. does things.

So anyway, after I processed my own unexpected emotions about Ryan's leaving TKD, I could deal with the expected ones--freedom and happiness and harmony! This week has been lovely. I didn't have to stress and mentally prepare for an oncoming confrontation. We went to kid activities--homeschool co-op and soccer and music class--without conflict. Hooray!!!!

I have encountered many adults (including my own parents when I was growing up) who will not let their kids quit sports or other extracurricular activities. Or try to make them feel guilty about it. Or seem to think that a kid ought to choose a particular sport over another.

I think these kinds of experiences can offer kids an invaluable learning experience. Ryan made a choice between two great values that conflicted. He chose what he thought was the higher value to him. Did he properly evaluate his values? Only he really knows for sure. His friends didn't come over at all this week, and I'm not sure if he noticed that he wouldn't have had a TKD conflict. Maybe he really wanted to stop TKD for other reasons, but being not-quite-8, can't really introspect and figure out the real reason he wanted to stop, so he chose the obvious one. I don't really know.

What I do know is that I wanted this choice to be his, and his alone. I didn't want him to stay in TKD because of me or Mr. H. or his friends there. I didn't want him to stay because he mistakenly thought that not being a black belt was going to somehow be a serious detriment. I want him to do it because he wants to, because it's a value to him, because it makes him happy and enhances his life. To the extent we can (logistically and financially), we are happy to help him pursue his values.

So the decision about what to do or stop doing is his. How we work together for the next extracurricular activity will be between both of us, and having been burned in the past, I'm probably going to handle future agreements a little differently with him. But I also realize he's still just a kid. :o)

I'd be interested to hear about this experience from him after he's grown, from his adult perspective, because I don't think I'll be able to know what he's really thinking and feeling until he does.

So what do you do about extracurriculars and sports?


9to5to9 said...

We're pretty close to the same page. My kids - the 6-year-old in particular - have wound up a bit overbooked lately because the older one also has been taking extracurricular classes at school such as drama or art. He likes doing all the activities - I sign him up for something ONLY if he wants to - but he misses the time with one friend in particular who isn't involved in as much. It wasn't as bad during soccer, when this friend was on his team, but he's really noticing it now.

So every time the 6yo mentions wanting to play with his friends, I remind him that there are only so many hours in the day and we have to make choices about how we spend them. I use the same discussion, by the way, about Wii and computer time as well. And every time before sports sign-ups we have the same talk.

Now, I won't let him quit an activity once he's committed and we've paid ("That's not a smart way to spend out money"), but we do have a discussion before every sign-up.

Hanah said...

Do you think he will want to go back to TKD after taking a break for a while? Are you planning to bring it up after a few months, or will you wait for him to say something about it?

Jenn Casey said...

9to5to9--I like the way you tell him "that's not a smart way to spend money." And that's why I was so freaking annoyed with him. But that final day, it was coming down to be done with it vs physically put him in the car. I wasn't willing to physically put his uniform on--he's too big for that anyway. And I just couldn't do it any more. He's old enough to deal with the more abstract ramifications of his decision to break our agreement, I think. Next time we sign him up for something that costs money, we'll have a serious discussion and I'll remind him about how TKD ended up. Depending on the situation, the activity, how much it costs, etc. I may tell him no. I don't know yet, but we'll find out!

Hanah--I honestly don't know. He does seem to like it so very much, and it's a sport that suits him well, personality-wise and talent-wise. I kind of hope he does, if the truth must be told.

What I will do is let him know when I find out about the summer schedule. If he decides not to go back then, I may mention it occasionally, just to see what his current thoughts are, but not in any different a way than I'd mention other possible activities he could participate in.

I really have no idea what will happen. Should be interesting to find out. :o)

Linda said...

I teach a kids martial arts class. Ours is Chinese Swordsmanship, which you can take a look at here The kids in my class are more likely to quit in the Winter when we can no longer hold class outside, or when cricket season comes up and training is on the same day.

I never chase students who pull out, other than to be sure they are okay. Learning any martial art is a priviledge passed down from one generation to the next, teacher to student. It would cheapen the art to have reluctant kids in training.

Youth is a time of finding out who we are. Parents can put their kids into one activity or another and the children will be obliging for a few years. Then they begin to become the unique people God made them to be. They learn what is fun and what is not. They experiment with different activities. This is all part of growing up into the adult world where their choices and the consequences will shape their future.

Sometimes a child who pulls out of an activity will go back to it in later years, but only if it was fun, not forced, and holds good memories. If a child pulls out of a sporting team mid season, he affects the whole team, but something like TKD only affects him. The years in training will already have made a powerful impact on his life. None of it has been wasted. It's helping him grow into the future man he will be.