My Kid Doesn't Like Group Activities, And That's Okay

by Rita Templeton
Suzanne Tucker / Shutterstock

First thing every morning, I have to stop and think of what day it is so I can plan my family’s schedule around whatever extracurricular activity is going on that evening because one of my kids wants to participate in everything. Right now, it’s basketball and Scouts; he begged to join soccer and flag football as well, but we told him he had to choose because there are only so many evening hours and Saturdays. Every flyer that comes home from school (and there are a lot) about a new club or sport, he’s busting through the door waving it in my face: “Mom, can I do this too?!”

But then there’s my oldest, who wouldn’t participate in an extracurricular activity if you paid him. When he was younger, he joined taekwondo for a few weeks and basketball for about the same length of time, but would almost immediately — like, the second or third practice — start dragging his feet when it was time to go.

I was frustrated with his unwillingness to commit (okay, mainly over the fact that we’d just thrown our hard-earned cash out the window in order to enroll him), and in typical mom fashion, it became an overblown issue in my head. Was he socially inept? Would he always be unwilling to expand his horizons? Would his reluctance mean he’d never commit to anything in his life? Would he ever have a successful relationship or hold down a job where he had to show up every day? Is he going to end up living in my basement when he’s 30, single and unemployed and eating chips in a grease-stained undershirt?

Yes, I can be a bit neurotic.

When I finally decided to take a step back and really assess the situation (and his personality), I realized something: He was, and still is, fine. He isn’t maladjusted or antisocial. He has friends and activities that he enjoys — they’re just not team sports. Unlike his younger brother, he’s not a joiner.

I was the exact same way as a kid, though it didn’t dawn on me until I stopped worrying about him. I joined Girl Scouts for one meeting — one. I distinctly remember that first meeting, and the overwhelming feeling of “nope” when I realized that I was going to have to do this on the regular. We hadn’t gotten to the fun stuff, and I knew it, but that didn’t even matter. It just wasn’t a fit for me, and I could tell right away. I didn’t join another club until high school, and that was only the Spanish Club, and only because members got a daytime field trip. Yet despite the fact that I wasn’t a joiner, I think I turned out just fine (just ask my mom; I don’t live in her basement).

Some kids want to be a part of everything. They enjoy the social aspect of clubs, and the camaraderie and competition that come along with being on a team. That’s the kind of childhood we tend to idealize, one full of enriching activities that expose our kids to lots of experiences, and that’s definitely a valuable thing — if they enjoy it.

But when they don’t, what then? Do we force them to join something, to stick with it even if it makes them miserable, just because that’s what we think we “should” do? Extracurricular activities aren’t going to improve their lives if they make our kids feel anxious or depressed.

I once read a quote that really resonated with me: “Anything that costs you your peace is too expensive” (author unknown). And our kids deserve peace as much as we do. If joining a club or a sport makes them happy, that’s what we want. But if it takes away their peace, the price is ultimately much higher than the enrollment fees.

I trust my kid’s judgment. It just isn’t his personality to be part of a group; he prefers to do things on his own or with one-on-one instruction, and I’m fine with that (now). If at any time he feels like he wants to try out a new experience, I’m all for it — but I’m not going to push the issue.

There are plenty of opportunities to try new things without jumping into a group setting, especially now in the digital age. In fact, he just joined an online Minecraft club through his school, and he’s as happy as a clam in his “natural element” instead of feeling pressured and anxious in a roomful of kids.

Yes, I want my son to be well-rounded. But more importantly, I want him to be happy. And if that means never cheering for him from the bleachers or publicly admiring his talents at a recital or exhibit, I’m okay with that. I’m firmly supportive of whatever extracurricular activity brings him the most joy, whether it involves a uniform or just a Minecraft T-shirt.