This post is part of a series of excerpts from Dr. G's new book on parenting: Get the Behavior You Want... Without Being the Parent You Hate!, which is available for pre-order now.

A few months ago I raised my hand to knock on an exam room door and go in when I overhead an exasperated conversation. A dad and his 11-year-old were arguing about their after-the-doctor plans. In a tone of voice that made it clear he’d said this 143 times before, the son said, “But I don’t WANT to practice the clarinet! I don’t even LIKE band anymore!” The dad answered, “Well then don’t think of it as practicing the clarinet. Think of it as practicing … practicing!” I walked in during the dumbfounded silence that followed Dad’s premise.

Practice is the opportunity to learn from your hobbies. Did you take lessons as a kid? Piano or Sunday School or swimming, gymnastics or soccer or dance, the point is not to create a star. Rather, the point is to have fun, learn some skills, and sneak in some life lessons along the way.

The perks.

  1. Fun! Hobbies should be fun. The more fun the activity, the easier it is to sneak in the life lessons.
  2. Learn some skills. Think of all the great life lessons your kids can get without you ever having to tell them in words:
    • Develop athleticism even if you’re not going to be a professional athlete.
    • Understand the arts better despite the fact that you may not be an artist.
    • Gain some confidence, work as a team, or learn to do something alone.
    • Work with a coach or a teacher that shares a passion with you.
  3. Life skills are the biggest perk of hobbies that involve practice of any kind. There is career advice that goes like this: “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” This is the chance for your child to learn that “work” can be fun and that sometimes even fun stuff takes work. Here is your child’s chance to practice practicing.

The Pitfalls.

  1. After school activities do not have superpowers. They can’t change who your child fundamentally is. Drama class won’t make your child a TV star and Cub Scouts isn’t going to turn your child into an outdoorsman if he only likes to sleep in his own bed.
  2. Don’t live vicariously through your kids’ activities and achievements. Teams and lessons can suck parents into this mindset: “I always wished I had taken martial arts so my child must do this.” Give your children some autonomy about what they choose and how serious they are about it.
  3. Let’s talk about limits. Do not try to create the Renaissance child in one semester. The kid that is on three teams, plays two musical instruments, takes lessons in another language, and then goes home to feed his partridge in a pear tree may also need to fit in time for serious psychotherapy. In our house we go by the “you pick one and we pick one” philosophy.

Sum it up? Get your child to pick something fun to do that takes practice. Then make sure she practices. When that activity peters out, pick something new. The rest of it will follow.

Deborah Gilboa, MD, aka “Doctor G” is an industry leading parenting expert, Family Physician, international speaker, author, and media expert. She developed the “3 R’s of Parenting” to empower parents to raise respectful, responsible, and resilient kids.
Doctor G is a Clinical Associate Professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and a frequent guest expert on CBS, ABC, and WQED. She contributes to Huffington Post Parents, Your Teen magazine, Parents magazine and MSNBC.com. Recognitions include Pittsburgh Magazine’s “40 Under 40”, the Bristol Meyers Squibb Award for Clinical Excellence, and The Excellence in Teaching Award.
Beyond these honors, she’s most proud of her family. She and her husband are raising four boys who are growing into respectful, responsible and resilient young men.
For more info, go to Ask Doctor G.