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As extracurricular activities get underway, remember what’s important

August 21, 2013

As the school year revs into high gear again, our schedules have already begun to fill up with activities: sports practices and games, after-school clubs, tutoring, Boys Scouts, Girl Scouts, youth groups. Sometimes it feels like a full-time job just getting kids to and from all of their extracurricular activities. It’s not too difficult to become a slave to our children’s schedules.

And when we’ve put so much time, effort and money into these activities, often we can’t help but have high expectations. We want the football team to win, the soccer team to score goals, the ballet performance to be a success and the school play to impress. These activities can become as important a part of our lives as they are for our children.

Show appreciation for who they are, not what they do

When we put so much emphasis on what our kids do, though, I wonder if sometimes our kids get lost in the shuffle. I don’t mean physically lost. I mean, I wonder if they lose their understanding (or fail to discover it in the first place) of who they are in the midst of it all. We all know the type- the star basketball player whose name is synonymous with game-winning baskets. His parents give a constant update to anyone who will listen about the latest scholarship opportunities he’s received. His life seems to be defined by this one thing. And yet, I have to wonder, does this boy know that he is loved simply because of who he is, not because of how well he performs?

One of the most important gifts we can give our children before they leave our home and venture out into the world is the gift of identity- knowing who they are and that they are loved just the way they are. We must make sure they know beyond a shadow of a doubt that they are worthy and wonderful, and they don’t have to do anything to prove it to us. That means embracing the whole package- their gifts and talents, quirks and curiosities, successes and failures.

Exactly how do we do that?

Tell them you love them.

It sounds so simple. You may think that it is inherently understood. It’s not; your kids need to hear it.

Tell them you’re proud of them

If the only time your child sees you express pride in them is when they shoot the game-winning basket or deliver a straight “A” report card, they will learn that they must earn your love. And then they’ll choose one of two avenues: to work hard to continue to earn it at all costs or give up entirely because they’re afraid to fail. While one of these approaches may outwardly look better than the other (i.e. the star basketball player), your child will pay a hefty cost for both. Be sure that your pride in them isn’t tied to any activity or outcome- that it simply is.

Recognize their gifts and validate them

Every child is born with a unique set of gifts. As parents, it’s our job to identify and cultivate them to the best of our ability. Not every child will have public successes. Yours may not be the star athlete or scholar, but there is something to celebrate in each of them. They may have an inspiring curiosity about the world, a peaceful appreciation for the beauty of nature, an innate ability to love others well and build relationships. Find those special qualities in your child. Tell them that you’ve noticed and you enjoy their unique gifts. Don’t make them work for your appreciation, because sooner or later they will go out into the world looking for the validation they once were seeking from you.

In the end, it’s who they are that is important, not the activities they complete, the competitions they win or the records they set. Make sure they know it.