Should you force your kids into new activities?

Kids on a zip line

When Christine and I launched our book Minimalist Parenting, interviewers inevitably asked us:

But aren’t you afraid “minimalist parenting” will lead to lazy, unmotivated kids?

It’s not a bad question. How can kids come to know their capabilities without a push (sometimes a firm one) out of their comfort zones?

Kristen Howerton wrote a fantastic piece about why she forces her kids into new activities. In it she describes the trial-and-error results of signing her kids up for classes and sports they don’t initially want to try. In some cases it was a bust, but in others, it opened doors to new interests and friendships.

Which brings me to Christine’s and my response to interviewers:

“Minimalist” is not the same as “minimal.” 

Minimalist parenting begins with connecting with your own priorities and values and then developing the confidence to lead with those values no matter what other neighborhood families or “parenting experts” are saying. Or (in this case) what your kids are saying.

In the book, Christine shares the story of how her mom wouldn’t let her quit violin lessons. It was maddening for Christine at the time, but she’s grateful that her mother forced her to challenge herself. Not only did she go on to become an accomplished musician, she learned something important about pushing through “the dip.”

Another crucial minimalist parenting mindset is the notion of flexible decision making. As we like to say:

Course correction beats perfection.

At any given time, we make the best parenting decisions we can based on the information we’ve got. If, later on, new information emerges that changes our thinking, we make adjustments. It’s not wishy-washy — it’s smart.

From Kristen’s post:

I feel like this is one of those tricky aspects of parenting. I want my kids to naturally fall into their passions, but I also know that sometimes they need a gentle nudge. If I was totally hands-off my kids would probably choose video games and candy as their passion. And while those things can be fun, I want them to dig a little deeper.

…It’s trial and error, and if it’s clear to me that something really isn’t a fit, I’m not above changing course. But I also think that sometimes, kids benefit from adults who are willing to make them stretch outside of their comfort zone.

What do you think? Are you pushing your kids to try new things this summer?

If you’re caught in the grip of summer planning (too much? too little?), we offer sane advice about how to find the balance. Order your copy of Minimalist Parenting at Amazon, B&N, Powell’s, or your favorite independent bookstore.


  1. Kendra says

    I love the idea of course correction. I cannot fairly tell my kids to strive for perfection; that is unreasonable, and I’m certainly not modeling it. But course correction is something we can both practice and preach.

  2. Tracy says

    Our Family Motto is “Do your best & forget the rest” (stole it from P90X) We too encourage new things that my boy is a bit afraid or uninterested to try. If it doesn’t stick we move on. My concern now is how to learn when to push to completion/follow through vrs forcing my kid to finish things. It’s a gray area–I want him to learn the value of completing what you begin–but also to know when it just isn’t worth completing (time, value, being uncomfortable)… any advice on that one?

  3. Asha Dornfest (Parent Hacks) says

    Tracy: I think you said it well: it’s a gray area. There’s no real way to *know* the right choice sometimes…hence course correction. Sometimes you just need the data that only comes with making the decision and then seeing where it goes for a while. Sometimes we’ll push too long. Sometimes we’ll quit too early. There’s learning in that, too. It’s all just data, you know?

    For example, looking back, I can now see that my son would have benefitted from being taken out of school (to homeschool) MUCH earlier than we did (we waited till mid-4th grade). He needed quite a lot of recovery by the time we finally made that decision, and I’m sure we would have saved a lot of anguish (his and ours) had we made that decision a year earlier. But we did the best we could at the time.

    He went back to school in 6th grade and he been THRIVING ever since (he’s entering 9th grade this Fall). That decision was timed well, but we could only know that *after* we took the leap.

    Point is, even wrong decisions teach us something, and we usually recover, if not in the way we expected.

  4. says

    My kids have no problem trying new activities, it’s sticking with them that’s the problem. If it starts to get “too hard”, they want to back out. We make a deal with them that they’ll continue for another {insert realistic time frame here} and give it their best shot. If they don’t like it, they’re done and don’t have to try it again.