Saturday, March 10, 2012

Siblings' Activities

    A friend provided inspiration today for this blog.  She has a child who has discovered a new passion.  She also has another child (younger) who is feeling somewhat left out as he sees his sister enjoying her new activity so much.  Of course, he already has an activity about which he is passionate.  As she describes it, “His face lights up every time he has a piano lesson.”  The mother is trying to decide whether to let her son try this new activity (even though he already has an activity about which he is passionate) or to tell him that this is sister’s special activity much as he has his own.
   What is a mother to do?  We know that activities are good for children. Should we allow our children to compete at the same things or insist that they each go in different directions? Should we limit the number of things in which they are involved at any given time? Let’s look at what some of the experts say.
    According to Mike and Renee Mosiman, husband and wife co-authors of The Smarter Preschooler: Unlocking Your Child's Intellectual Potential, “A sense of personal accomplishment can be achieved when a child masters a skill such as learning a new stroke in swimming or making to the next belt level in karate.”  
   Barack Levin, a stay-at-home dad and author of The Diaper Chronicles, suggests letting your child try activities on a month-to-month basis.  He recommends signing up for one month and then reassessing at the end of the month.  That way, your child is not quitting an activity before it is over, but is not required to stay with it for too long if he hates it.  Of course, this is not always possible.  Some activities require you to sign up for the season or for months long sessions.  
    Jennifer Fredricks, Associate Director of Human Development at Connecticut College, found that the positive effects of one to 13 hours of weekly extracurricular activities were clear in children’s exam performance. But for students taking part in more than 17 hours of lessons, clubs and classes outside school, their grades and overall well-being notably dropped. “Above a certain level, you see a decline in grades and a decline in achievement.” Read more:

HOW TO BE A WHOLE SMART FAMILY (Sylvia B. Rimm, Ph.D., The Effects of Sibling Competition, 2002)
1.  Cheer for your siblings and they'll cheer for you.
2.  You may be second best in your family but might be best if you were in other families.
3.  Even if you're best in your family, you might be second best compared to another family.    
4.  Doing the best you can do is more important than being best in the family.
5. Learn to enjoy your experiences and improvement without continually comparing yourself to your siblings.
6. Effort and attitude count.

    Debbie Eisenstadt Mandel, a stress management specialist, tells us that we should “encourage separate individual hobbies and after-school activities. For example, one child might attend music school and the other karate. Each one needs to find a niche that distinguishes subjective abilities. Also, spend time with each one—separately doing other activities. After all, each child represents another part of you, physically and mentally. Become a positive mirror. Affirm each child verbally, don’t anticipate the negative.” 
    Finally, some schools have started offering activities after school - a different activity each day of the week. These are a great way for children to explore lots of different things without a lengthy time commitment. If your school or local youth club offers this sort of structure, you might want to check it out. Children are able to try chess club on Monday, soccer on Tuesday, drama club on Wednesday, piano on Thursday, and ballet on Friday - without you driving any extra miles or them making a huge commitment and becoming overextended. These activities are usually pretty low key - more focused on exposure than on proficiency.
    Benna Golubtchik, a teacher and NYC Board of Education retiree, reminds us, “children have personal learning styles: auditory, visual and drawing-- siblings do too.’”
    So, after we have looked at what several experts have to say about children’s activities, what is my friend to do?  
    First she must look at this younger sibling’s motivation. Does he want to take part because the older sister is getting attention for doing something well and he is jealous?  Does he want to join because he truly would enjoy the activity?  Is he tiring of the piano?  Does he feel the need to take on more extra-curricular activities?  Is he bored? 
    Once the mother has ascertained the motivation, perhaps she should look at the overall picture.  Is he involved in many activities?  Does he have adequate free time to simply create, think, and play? Is he truly passionate about playing the piano, playing for enjoyment in addition to simply practicing lessons?  Does he have a history of wanting to copy his big sister?  Is sibling rivalry an issue?  What effect would his joining in have on his big sister’s passion for her new activity?
    Once Mom answers all of these questions, she should be able to make the right decision for her family. What it always comes down to is what is appropriate for a given family. The experts can offer opinions, research, and advice, but in the end each family must choose what is right for them.

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