The importance of extracurricular activities cannot be minimized. For pre-school children, opportunities to practice social interaction and exposure to new stimuli greatly contribute to their development. For school-aged children, these activities provide social connection and involvement outside of the school environment, creating a much-needed balance. Particularly for children who may not enjoy academics, or perhaps struggle academically, the opportunity to attain mastery in non-academic activities is a gift. Research shows that self-esteem is the #1 predictor of success and of happiness in adulthood. Self-esteem is established when a child experiences a sense of mastery. If limited to the classroom, a child may not identify or experience mastery, or if they do, it may not be appreciated on the same level.
Erik Erikson, one of the most influential psychologists in history, created a lifespan developmental theory, divided into 8 stages (“the 8 stages of man”) – each of which had a “crisis” to resolve. For example, during the first year of life, the crisis is “trust vs. mistrust;” if a baby gets his needs met on most occasions (fed/held/changed when cries), he will develop a basic sense of trust in the world. For “play age” children (approx. ages 3-5), the crisis is “initiative vs. guilt” and during this change, we want to help children feel a sense of purpose and confidence to take initiative (in anything that interests them) and make choices for themselves. For “school age” children (approx 6-12), the crisis is “industry vs. inferiority” and this is where Erikson identifies the development of competence; therefore, it is when a child develops a sense of industry, or the ability to be in touch with his personal abilities, that he establishes a sense of competency (or mastery). The best approach is for a child to be exposed to multiple avenues to achieving mastery.
In sum, creating the conditions for your child to develop a sense of mastery is a proactive and positive parenting decision, and one which supports his or her psychological growth as well.
By Dr. Bonnie Zucker, Psy.D
Read all about Dr. Bonnie: Meet Dr. Bonnie Zucker – Activity Rocket’s Expert Child Psychologist