Can boredom be a good thing? The pros & cons of clubs & activities…

Should I be organising more for my daughter? Will she miss out if I don’t?

These questions will cross the minds of all parents at some – or several – points – in their daughters’ lives, and when we are surrounded by a host of opportunities in the form of out-of-school clubs, classes and holiday activities, it can be difficult not to feel under pressure to sign our daughters up for everything going. But is this right and how do we decide?

The best advice is to start with your daughter. Ask yourself, and her, if she has a particular interest which is not being properly developed at present. Perhaps she loves to dance or act, but doesn’t have the chance to do this at school. Perhaps she is fascinated by craft and wants to spend more time on it. If so, this is a good reason to explore additional opportunities in the evenings, at weekends or during the holidays. Enabling your daughter to pursue her passion can be rewarding for both parent and child.

Another good reason to look at out-of-school clubs and activities is to provide an opportunity for your daughter to mix socially. She can deepen existing friendships or establish new friendship groups through shared activities. Holiday camps or summer schools can be a good way to stave off the boredom of a long holiday when other friends are away, but a note of caution: to fill the whole holiday with them, particularly if they are held at your daughter’s school, will give her little respite. Holiday childcare can be a challenge, particularly for families in which both parents work, but staying with grandparents, aunts and uncles can provide just as much of a break as well as an opportunity to deepen her bonds with her extended family.

They main thing is not to try to force your daughter to develop new interests or friends. While very young children often play quite happily with complete strangers, older girls become – quite rightly – much more discriminating.
Children need space and time to create their own entertainment. A little boredom allows the development of creative thinking and a wonderful imagination. Over-organisation is almost invariably counter-productive. If you rush your daughter from class to club to team practice, she will have little time to think, let alone grow and mature as an independent thinker. You want her to become less dependent on you, rather than more, as she grows older, and if you are effectively controlling what she does and when, then this won’t happen.

Feel empowered to tell her to go and amuse herself for an afternoon. Remind her of the resources available in her own home, such as books, games, music and so on. There may be an initial protest, but you will discover that she will almost always find something creative to do.

In a similar vein, sometimes, as parents, we feel that our daughters should attend clubs and classes because it is ‘good for them’, or because we fear that they will be left behind if they don’t. If Mandarin lessons are all the rage, for instance, then you may feel that you are damaging your daughter’s life chances if you don’t enrol her immediately. In reality, she can learn Mandarin at any time on a crash course during her university years or later. If, however, she is carrying with her into adulthood the resentment of having been made to spend time learning a language when all she wanted to do was play, this will hold her back more.

Essentially, choosing out-of-school activities is all about balance. Your daughter should not feel over-tired, over-stressed or over-stretched. Look at the bigger picture of your daughter’s life. She doesn’t need to do everything today, and she will be all the happier for just learning how to ‘be’, rather than always to ‘do’.

Dr Helen Wright, Former Headmistress, St Mary’s Calne

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