A common question I am asked by parents is how to help their reluctant child choose an activity in school, or outside of school. Whether it’s a club, activity or a sport, some children find a reason to say “no” to everything. This can be a difficult struggle for both the child and parents.

Many parents report their child is resistant to try new things. Children often don’t want to get up early or stay after school late. Others may be opting out before even considering it because they think to themselves, “Why should I try something new when I can’t do it anyway.” Some rejection is based on anxiety; some is based on perfectionism or self-doubt. These emotions can get in the way of what you want for your child.

If you think your child is suffering from anxiety and/or self-doubt please speak to a trusted medical or behavioral professional who can help. This is also a prevalent issue that should not be ignored.

Some parents I work with have opted to force participation knowing their child will engage happily and enjoy him or herself once they begin. You know your child better than anyone. For everyone else, here’s another option.

Do you remember when they were younger and wouldn’t eat any vegetables, so you gave them three options? They may not have wanted any, but you gave them the power of choice. This is that same concept. Limit. So go ahead and remove activities you don’t approve of, or don’t fit the budget. Providing choices allows your child to make decisions, and gives them some control and ownership in their lives – this action engenders buy-in and follow through.

What You’ll Need

  • 20 – 45 minutes with your child
  • Budget friendly revised activities list
  • Scissors
  • Table and chairs in a quiet space

The Process/What To Say

  • “We talked about joining clubs or teams, and I know that feels tough right now.”
  • “We’re going to try something new today, because sitting around all the time isn’t an option, sweetheart.”
  • “Today, we’re going to help you decide what you’ll enjoy.”
  • “I have this list, I have these scissors.”


  • Cut out all of the names of the activities
  • Read the list together to make sure your child knows what each says, and discuss the features of each to make sure they understand their options
  • Watch your tone and body language to remain impartial
  • Ask your child to think about the activities

Three Column Sort

“We are going to list these in three categories.” Don’t forget to have fun with this. You know your child; play with the three column names.

(Column One) “Here, you’ll list teams/clubs you would give a try.”
(Column Two) “Here, you’ll list activities you’ll maybe consider.”
(Column Three) “This last column, list teams/clubs there is no way, uh uh, not doing it.”

  • Hold up the first activity, ask your child where she would like to list it
  • Follow this until all team/clubs have been sorted into one of these columns
  • Discuss the list in Column One, helping your child choose a great fit
  • Once narrowed down, you will most likely find your child is more invested in this these activities because they have had their say, thus minimizing conflict


Sorting these activities into columns will allow your children to create true self-awareness, with feelings of control over the outcome. Please let your child know their choice is not written in stone.

Encourage your child leading up to the start, reminding him/her they made this choice, and it looks like a great one.

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