Helping your child thrive in group activities

(Part 2 on finding the right extra-curricular activities) by Kathy Kuhl

Congratulations! Following last week’s post, you’ve found an activity your child will try: scouts, a club, a choir, a sport class, or team. Your child is willing, maybe even eager, the leaders seem like decent folks, and you can fit it into your schedule and budget.

But will it work for your child? For kids with learning challenges, there is more to deal with than the usual first day jitters and settling into a new crowd.

To help your child have the best chance of succeeding and enjoying the activity, follow these tips:

  1. Set a trial period. We don’t want our kids to give up at the first sign of difficulty. So when my son tried a sport, we committed for a season. When we tried a new class or other activity, we committed for a six or eight week session.My son enjoyed karate lessons for many years. But sometimes, halfway into an 8-week session, after a hard lesson, he’d say, “I don’t want to take karate any more.” My stock answer was, “Let’s finish this session, and then you can stop if you want.” At the end of every 8-week session, he wanted to keep going. Don’t let a tough start or an occasional hard day, lead you to drop an activity.Now, if your child is suffering—from a mean instructor or a bullying child who the leaders are not stopping, or other pain or injury—then, of course, intervene, fix it, or stop. But if your child is just uncomfortable, give it time.
  1. Help your children prepare for the activity, so their special needs don’t slow them down.If you have a child with attention or organization problems, like I do, here are some practical ways to help them:
    a) Keep all their gear in one place.
    The best 25 cents I ever spent was at a yard sale, buying my son a second backpack, that only held his soccer gear. Before that, We had spent weeks rushing around at the last minute for cleats, shin guards, and ball, then dumping out whatever was in his backpack, and repacking.Check the day before to make sure the uniform is clean. Have a special place for it. My son had one drawer for all his scout stuff: kerchiefs, sash, souvenirs, handbook, flashlights, and so on. His camping and backpacking gear went in a crate. The tent, hiking stick, and backpack had special places to be kept.b) Help your child prepare mentally. Remind them in the morning (“You have karate this afternoon,”), again about a half hour before it’s time to get ready, and again when it is time for them to get ready. Allow extra time to reduce stress.Don’t lose track of the time, then rush in, saying, “It’s late, we’ve gotta run!” and expect a child who struggles with transitions to be happy. (I’ve done this—we know where son gets his distractiblity from!)TimeTimer8inchI recommend a Time Timer to help children, teens and adults who lose track of the time. This visual timer helps us see that violin lesson time is drawing near!

c) If your child has reading or writing difficulties, talk with the leaders about how to meet the group goals. Can you help the child read the lessons or merit badge material they’ll be working on ahead of time, or write out in advance work that needs to be done during a meeting.

Remember your goals are for your child to succeed and not to create extra work for the leaders, especially the volunteers!

Next time, we’ll talk about helping your child socially and helping the leaders help your child thrive in a group activity, without driving those leaders crazy!

Question: What are your best tips for helping a child with challenges fit into a group activity? Please post in the comments below.

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