“What sports do your kids play?”

“What activities are your kids doing this term?”

Innocent enough questions, but somehow they can still add to the load of parental pressure.

Should we sign him up for basketball? He is begging to do it but he already has summer soccer and piano lessons... and someone has to drive him to everything! And let’s not forget his older brother and sister who have lots on too!

Today there are so many options when it comes to things to do after school (or before school – shout-out to those 5am swim squad parents!). And we want our kids to be able to do ALL the exciting things. “Parkour? Sure!”

It’s a far cry from my upbringing at a tiny rural school, where if you were a girl you had to be in the netball team because otherwise there were not enough girls.

It’s a far cry from my upbringing at a tiny rural school, where if you were a girl you had to be in the netball team because otherwise there were not enough girls, and probably it was the same for the boys in terms of rugby.

Sports, clubs and activities offer a wide range of benefits. They can also be a really fun way for kids (and parents!) to express themselves. “Our whānau is into waka ama. We are out on the water every Saturday morning!” or “Oh my little artist here, he just loves his art classes!”

And it all sounds wonderful and enriching, doesn’t it? We want our children to have opportunities and to be confident in lots of different settings, and we want them to be given chances to meet new friends, and to discover what they are passionate about.

However, this modern phenomenon of extra-curricular activities has a considerable financial cost attached, and let’s not forget the cost of time.

Feeling pressured

Deciding what to sign our kids up to and how far we can stretch our family’s commitments can be a challenge. Lots of things tempt to take our time, with an endless array of activities we could taxi our kids around to. As great as these opportunities can seem however, they will all require a considerable chunk of the day/evening. This puts pressure on the whole family.

Ensuring schedules aren’t jam-packed is our responsibility as parents. Kids don’t always know what is best for them, and even us grown-ups can say ‘Yes’ to things that might not be in the best interests of our family’s well-being.

If you recognise yourself as an overcommitted family, it can be refreshing to lean into saying “No” and blocking out at least one afternoon a week on the calendar that is just for 'home time', with nowhere your kids need to be and nothing they have to do.

Ensuring schedules aren’t jam-packed is our responsibility as parents.

More or less?

From my observation, families tend to vary with their extra-curricular struggles. Some families over-schedule their kids and term times are a complete whirlwind of music lessons, sports practices, maths tutoring and swim squad. Not to mention all the life admin of housework and homework.

Other families really don’t have any after school activities or pursuits, which can allow our kids to get quite unstimulated and bored. While we know that it’s a piece of cake for kids to fill all the hours between school and midnight on a screen, we need to consider if this a balanced, healthy life. Are they moving their bodies, seeing their friends, developing new competencies etc?

As I once heard a Judge memorably say – “Kids in sports are not in Courts”. A less catchy version of this might be “Kids in extra-curricular activities are not having hours and hours of sedentary low-quality time on screens, or loads of unsupervised time with their mates, vaping at the park!” Perhaps that's a tad simplistic, but I'm sure you get the point.

If your kids have no extra-curricular activities (especially as they get older – five-year-olds have enough on their plate just getting used to the rhythm of school), you might consider if you can afford to pay for guitar lessons, or encourage them to join a school netball team or get a paper-run.

The beauty of balance

Basically, balance is key in the afternoons/ evenings. Kids love a bit of ‘downtime’, after their busy day at school or kindy. Time to jump on the trampoline, read a book or have a moderate allowance of TV or iPad time will be treasured by your kids. But especially as they get older, they also need some structured activities that extend them and help them develop hobbies, confidence, fitness and skills.


Kristin Ward

Kristin Ward manages the Family Coaching team and enjoys working with tricky dynamics in families. She loves supporting parents to see how they can be on the same team as their kids, no matter what challenging behaviour they are facing. A mum-of-three, Kristin is passionate about seeing whānau thrive and strongly believes there is lots parents can do to build close and warm relationships with their children.

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