We’ve all seen the movie where the 15-year-old boy on the baseball team wants to dance instead of play sports, and after a big fight with his dad who is trying to live vicariously through his son, the father accepts the son for who they are and lets him be in the dance recital. We end the film feeling pride for the dad who accepted his son. But isn’t that what a parent is supposed to do?
Forcing your child or teen to participate in activities often ends in resentment and fighting, rather than in your son becoming the next Derek Jeter. So, before you sign up your kid for another lesson, think about why you shouldn't force them into it.
Today’s society is a world where many parents are having the ideal forced upon them, and on their children, that in order to be successful well-rounded adults, they must be scheduling every free moment of their days with playdates, school, soccer practice, piano lessons, and debate team. But could this also be hurting your child?
We want to expose them to all the opportunities their world can offer, but if they show no interest in something, why force them into when there are so many other things they could occupy their time with?
Passion Is Important
Passion should be a factor when picking an activity. If your child is particularly passionate about hockey or dance, it'll make it easier on everyone if they can focus on that activity. If they're a gifted violinist, let them focus on that and scrap the lacrosse practice.
It makes it easier for the parents and children if you don't have to fight about going to practices because it's something they truly love. It's also easier for parents if they aren't shuttling their kids all over the city six nights a week, but just to the dance studio or just to the arena.
Let Them Find Which Sports They Enjoy
Physical activity can be a great way for your over-active child to let off some steam after school, or for your super shy six-year-old to make some new friends, but it can also be harmful for children.
There are plenty of benefits to youth playing sports. It teaches them about the importance of teamwork and healthy exercise and can build their self-esteem. But it can also have the opposite effect if parents force their kids to participate in sports they don’t enjoy.
Don't Put Added Pressure On Your Kid To Be A Star
Sports are a great way to build your kids self-esteem, but it can also have an adverse effect if your kid isn’t athletically inclined. Sports can also put an unhealthy amount of pressure on kids to perform at a high level from a young age.
If your 10-year-old son is telling you he hates hockey and wants to join a choir instead, you should listen to him. Yes, he’ll never be the next Bobby Orr, but you shouldn’t restrict them to certain activities simply because they’ve participated in previous years.
Extracurriculars In General
When children are young we sign them up for every activity under the sun — hockey, gymnastics, piano lessons, soccer, dance classes — because we want to make sure they're given opportunities to try new things and be exposed to different activities. And that's great to start off, but it's not sustainable long term.
The issue arises when parents continue to force their kids to participate in activities that they've expressed a clear disinterest in. You're not going to raise a 'quitter' if you let your athletically-awkward 13-year-old stop playing soccer and focus on violin lessons.
Don't Force Them To Eat Foods They Hate
There’s a difference between having them try new foods and forcing your child to eat something you know they dislike. Eating a healthy balanced meal is important, we’re not suggesting you don’t feed your kids vegetables, but if its a food they could go their whole life without needing to eat, why force them?
If you know your daughter despises scrambled eggs, is it really worth it to fight about it every morning when she could instead eat cereal? Forcing your child to eat can make meals a hostile time, and will could result in them simply hating that food more.
Sharing Isn't Always Caring
This is a bit confusing because sharing is caring right? But more and more, experts are trying to define what exactly 'sharing' is, because there isn't really a set definition. It's just this vague term that we teach children.
If you find yourself feeling saddened when you see a child being forced to give up the toy they're playing with because their parent is telling them they have to share with their little brother, you're not the only one. Schools have started to move away from the idea that children are required to share immediately when asked.
The Montessori Way
Montessori instead believes that teaching kids patience and waiting is equally as important as sharing. Rather than children demanding to use something and being rewarded immediately, they're being taught to ask permission to use the item when the first person is finished.
This is believed to be a better way to teach kids about autonomy and ownership. It's also a more realistic approach because in the 'real world' - adulthood - you can't simply ask for something and expect to be accommodated regardless of the other person.
Not everyone feels comfortable with physical affection, and that’s okay. If your child doesn’t want to greet someone with a hug or a kiss, you shouldn’t force them to, whether it’s towards siblings, relatives, or their friends.
You need to respect your child’s boundaries and personal space and make them feel safe — that's a parent's priority. An alternative to a hug could be a fist bump or a high five, so they’re still making a connection and acknowledging someone without putting the child in a situation where they’re uncomfortable.
Take Subjects They Don't Like
Again, obviously exposing your kids to a variety of subjects is important when they’re young. Giving them a well-rounded elementary school education is crucial so they can learn about their favorite subjects and about subjects they do well in.
When it comes to high school though, in particular when teens are deciding what they want to do after secondary school, they should be able to choose what they’re actually interested in and will excel at.
Let Them Choose Their Own Career
It’s nice that you’re an engineer or your partner is a physician, but forcing your child to take AP Biology when they want to study music therapy isn’t beneficial, and acknowledging that STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) careers aren’t for everyone is important.
If they’re spending all their time and energy studying subjects they don't enjoy and aren’t doing well at, that can be difficult for them. It can be hard on their self-esteem as well as mentally draining.
Make Friends With Everyone
If your child says they don’t like someone, ask them why. Don’t say they have to be friends with everyone, because that’s not true. Teach them to be polite to everyone and a generally social person, but teaching them to force themselves to get along with everyone all the time isn’t realistic.
They’re going to come across people in their lives who they don’t get along with, and it's better to teach them to find the people they do get along with, rather than force them to change themselves to fit in with others.
Make Friends With Anyone
Some kids simply aren’t socially-inclined, no matter how extroverted their parents are. As much as you shouldn’t force your kids to be friends with everyone, you also shouldn’t force them to be friends with anyone.
Children need to learn to navigate social situations on their own, even if that means they sit on their own at recess at the beginning of the school year. When they’re young you can set up playdates and expose them to different people, but they’re going to move at their own pace.
Yes, martial arts can be beneficial for kids because it can help them develop better self-control, improve their attention span, help them learn respect. That only happens if your kid actually wants to be there.
According to Krav Maga Black Belt Eric Siley, "students who don't want to be here kill the energy and it’s not fair to them or training partners. If one of my students is passionate about another [activity] I encourage them to follow their passion - after giving martial arts an honest try!
Sleepover Summer Camp
Maybe you went to summer camp your whole life and went on to become a counselor and you want your kid to share in that experience. That's great! But you will also remember that kid in your cabin that one summer who was really homesick and ended up leaving early.
A sleep away camp environment isn't going to work for every child. The first time is going to be hard no matter what, but if it's been two, three, four summers and they continue to dislike it, don't keep forcing them to go. Maybe try a local day camp instead?
Church And Religion Can Be Tricky
This is a tricky one because church and faith is something that you would want to share with your children, but its also something that should never be forced on someone. So how do you find the balance? What do you do if your child refuses to go?
Like most other things, you can bring your children to church when they’re young to expose them to it. They can get an idea for faith and a sense of community and better understand organized religion.
Give Them The Information, Then Let Them Decide
Once they’re older though, it’s harder to make your older children or teens come to church if they don’t want to. Faith is something that needs to be chosen — you can’t just force it upon your kids or they could develop a lifelong resentment for it.
Have a conversation about why they don’t want to go. If your 16-year-old daughter doesn’t want to go because she doesn’t have the same beliefs, don’t force her. If your 7-year-old doesn’t want to go because he wants to stay home and play video games, you could probably insist.
Remember: Quitting Doesn't Make Them A 'Quitter'
Your kid will not turn out to be a 'quitter' if you let them quit the one activity they hate and/or aren't good at. Quitting does not make them a quitter. If you let them quit every activity simply because they are indifferent or don't want to make any effort, that would make them a quitter.
Letting them quit soccer because they've played for five years and have been asking to stop for four years will not cause commitment issues for life.
There's Probably A Reason
If your child is saying they don’t want to do something, whatever it may be, it's important to figure out why - if you can. Don’t give in at the first sign of pushback, but if they’re consistently upset about going to violin lessons or they are ‘sick’ every night when it's time for hockey practice, think about why.
It’s good to push your child, expose them to new experiences and situations, but you also need to make sure your child knows that you’re there to support them and listen to them when they have concerns.
Just Make Sure To Listen
No one ever said parenting was easy. And in a world filled with mommy blogs, parenting books, and debates between parents on Facebook, it's hard to know who to listen to and what advice to disregard.
As parents, the best thing a kid can ask is to grow up in an environment where they feel loved and understood. Just listen to your kids, because they'll tell you what they need from you.