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How to choose activities for your kids: start with understanding their personality

Paediatric psychologist says if your child is open to trying lots of things, it’s a good thing to follow their lead

From tennis to t’ai chi, camogie to krav maga, there is a bewildering choice of activities for kids. Participating can open up to new skills and opportunities for children, but how many activities should a child do?

“Research says five or six is the optimum number of activities, but I don’t think a number is the right way to look at it,” says paediatric psychologist Dr Claire Crowe, who is a member of the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy.

Instead, consider your child’s personality and follow their lead and what they are able for, says Crowe.

“You’ll have some kids who just want to engage in everything and they are very good at it. The kids who are good at things will enjoy it and will end up making friends with it.


“If you have a child that is willing and open to trying lots of things and you have the time and resources to devote to them, it’s a good thing to follow their lead.”

Involve them

Before signing your child up to a new activity, be sure to involve them.

“You get some kids who don’t want to do anything. Have them involved in the conversation from the start by asking, ‘what are you interested in?’ and ‘what would you like to try?’ The more they have exposure to different things, the more they will get a sense of what they like,” says Crowe.

If your child is reticent about trying new things, support them by going along and attending the class with them until they are comfortable. This might mean waiting with your child outside the door of ballet class, looking in for a few weeks until they are ready to join.

“It’s about understanding the personality of your child and what they need,” says Crowe. It can take time for a child to build up trust.

Include their friends

If your child is reluctant or their enthusiasm tends to wane after a few classes, try pairing the activity with friendships, says Crowe.

Carpooling with other kids can make it a more enticing experience. If your child doesn’t want to go, having to pick up Mary and Sean down the road can provide the natural momentum and distraction to get them out the door.

For teenagers in particular, that others in their peer group are going can be the tipping point.

What if they don’t want to continue?

If your child is reluctant to continue with an activity, try the five-minute challenge, suggests Crowe.

“Activation precedes motivation. Once we start doing something, we tend to enjoy it. The five-minute challenge is a great thing to do with children. Tell them, ‘let’s go for five minutes’.”

Allow for free play

Parents may feel their kids’ spare time should be spent learning a demonstrable skill, or learning a hobby that they can do in adulthood. There is much value in free play too, however.

“What we had as kids was free play and playing with kids of different ages. That was really important for our psychological development,” says Crowe.

“There is research showing children play differently with adult supervision. If you always do structured activities, you learn to wait and it stifles your creativity and your autonomy and engagement with tasks.

“We know from research that having an activity that is not instructor-led is really important for emotional resilience and confidence. I would say, balance the amount of extra curricular activities that allow for free play,” she says.

“Research shows children enjoy activities better when they don’t have adult supervision. As much as they may like going to tennis, if we leave them free to play on the green with their peers, they will say it was more fun.”

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