Deborah Gilboa's 8-year-old son has always hated taking part in the group presentations at school.
So she was amazed when he belted out One Direction's "What Makes You Beautiful" in front of 250 people at a karaoke party. What made the difference? "There wasn't any pressure on him to perform," explains Dr. Gilboa, a family physician in Pittsburgh. In second and third grades, the opportunities to participate at school and in extracurriculars surge. Find out how to encourage your kid to become more involved.
You certainly know whether your child participates in extracurricular activities, but how much he volunteers in the classroom may surprise you. To get a quick idea, ask him after school, "Did the teacher call on you when you raised your hand today? What was it for?" suggests Tina Lobel, a former learning specialist at Léman Manhattan Preparatory School, in New York City. If a couple of days go by and he can't think of any way he participated, e-mail the teacher asking for her opinion. On the other hand, if your child was able to give a few examples, rest assured that he's probably fine. "Do make a point to ask about classroom participation during your parent-teacher conference because later in elementary school and middle school, it will likely count more toward his subject grades," says Lobel.
If you find out that your child doesn't contribute much in school -- whether it's shooting up her hand to answer the math problem or volunteering to read aloud -- ask her directly what she thinks when other kids raise their hand. "Most kids admire it in others but think no one will find it admirable in them," says Dr. Gilboa. Then segue to why she's hesitant to volunteer. If she's scared that she'll give the wrong answer or mispronounce a word (a common deterrent at this age), Lobel suggests working with her teacher on ways to build confidence. "The teacher could make a point to call on her for questions that are a matter of opinion rather than ones that have a right or wrong response," she says. You should also mention that many kids who are eager to respond often get the answer wrong -- and they're not punished or given a lower mark.
Before your child rejects an opportunity to sign up for a club at school, be sure he's aware of all the ways he could be involved, says Dr. Gilboa. For instance, to join the drama club, he doesn't have to audition for a play or even set foot on stage. Let him know that he could paint scenery, make props, or hand out programs. Sports clubs also offer other ways to participate besides playing in the game.
Sure, you wouldn't have to be a chauffeur anymore if your child didn't join after-school clubs. But they promote cooperation and problem solving and raise a child's self-esteem, says Linda Whitehead, Ph.D., vice president of education and development for Bright Horizons Family Solutions in Watertown, Massachusetts. If your kid seems reluctant to sign up, steer her to something one of her friends already participates in. Or choose an activity like karate that offers family classes.
Originally published in the February 2014 issue of Parents magazine.