Parenting • Aug 29, 2013

Are Parents’ Expectations Too High?

With fall being just around the corner and school already started, as parents we restart our jobs as “chauffeurs” – carting our children around to the multitude of extracurricular activities offered today.  As parents, we want our children to be involved and to develop a variety of interests.  We want them to be successful.  As such, we have high expectations for them and rightfully so.  But in the midst of sending our children off to school, followed by multiple extracurricular activities throughout the course of every week and weekend, with the goal of them being as enriched and well-rounded developmentally as possible, we might want to stop and think – are we setting them up for too high of expectations?  Are our children becoming overloaded with the various sports, performing arts, clubs, and volunteer experiences offered through our schools and communities?  Are they feeling too much pressure to perform and to perform at high levels?

Now don’t get me wrong, I am a firm advocate of extracurricular activities and participation in MomDocs - Extracurricularsstructured, group-based activities.  They allow children to learn and develop social-communication skills, team-based skills, and discipline from other adults.  They also can teach children the value of a strong work ethic, the importance of practice and self-discipline to achieve a goal, and what it means to be committed to something.  Not to mention the potential benefits on the physical, mind, and for some, spiritual well-being of their children.

However, at the same time, there is such a thing as too much involvement and too high of expectations for a child, and this is sometimes seen in families with very good intentions.  Participation in too many extracurricular activities or the wrong-suited ones for your child can be a mistake.  Expecting your child to be the best at everything he or she does is also detrimental.  On the counterpart, children who have never had the opportunity to participate in any extracurricular activity or whose parents expect very little of them clearly suffer as well.  As in many things in life, I believe the key is moderation.  With this in mind, the following tips may be helpful in the extracurricular activity decision-making process this year.


  • Consider limiting your child’s extracurricular activities to 1-3 commitments at one time, depending on the age of your child/adolescent and the level of commitment involved in each activity.
  • Ask the following questions about each extracurricular activity you are considering:
    • What is the time commitment of this activity (how often, how many hours at a time, and for how long)?
    • What is the age-range of children involved in this activity?
    • What type of adult-supervision is involved in this activity?
    • What costs are involved in this activity?
    • What is the level of talent necessary/expected for this activity?
    • How will this activity potentially help my child’s development?
  • If your child has difficulty narrowing his/her activities, help him/her to prioritize things according to what is important to him/her as well as things that you as a parent value.
  • Alternatively, if your child is hesitant to get involved in any activity, pick a few options for your child that may overlap with some of his/her interests and have him/her pick one.  Put the extracurricular activity in the context of a “trial run” with a set amount of time that your child will commit and be open to seeing if the activity is a good fit.  Do not let your child quit before the trial run is complete.
  • Help your child find a balance between longer-term commitments (sticking with an activity even when it gets challenging) and being able to try new things with the attitude that every activity may not be a good fit.
  • Set behavioral and performance expectations ahead of time for extracurricular activities and for school.  If academics are a priority, be clear about this.
  • Emphasize good effort and motivation versus pure outcomes, such as wins and grades.  Let your child know that he/she does not have to be the best at everything – most kids rarely are.
  • Help your child find something that they can be successful and shine at in order to boost their self-confidence.  If traditional activities, such as academics, sports, and music are not your child’s strength, then think outside of the box.  Might he/she be great at 4H, Boy Scouts, Tae Kwon Do, photography, Anime club, Lego robotics club?

At the end of the day, we want our children to feel like they can work toward a goal – whatever it may be – and achieve some form of success… and to still have some time and energy left to just be a kid.