Every child is different. It may be hard not to compare your child to other children, siblings, or even yourself as a child, but it is so important to view each child as an individual. Not only do they all have different interests, but each kid may go about that interest in a different way. So how do you know if that interest is a hobby that will fizzle out or a passion that will last a lifetime? The short answer—you don’t! All you can do is be supportive, listen and keep them involved.
Activities at any age are great, but when you near those tween years, it is time for your babies to start spreading their wings. Bringing extra-curriculars into a child’s life can be extremely important. It gives them confidence, something to feel good about and a life outside of school. Some kids know exactly what they want to get involved in; music, theatre, sports, and some may need a little nudge. What is important is to keep the balance. Being well rounded builds character, and even though your 10, 11, or 15 year old may have their heart set on being a singer or professional basketball player, it is so important to have them pay attention to other activities here and there, even when they don’t want to.
If you sign up for a session or semester of something, try to make them stick with it! Sometimes kids are fearful of new experiences, which turns into, “Mom, I don’t like it, can I quit?” Too often, the answer is yes. None of us want to see our kids frustrated, and every situation is different. Give it enough time where they are comfortable, know some other kids and have had a chance to truly experience the activity. In my 10 years of teaching all different types of after school activities, every single child that wanted to quit in the beginning but was made to stick with it was proud of themselves and glad they finished. It may not have been their new passion and they probably didn’t continue on, but they accomplished something. As a parent, I also understand not wanting to pay for something your children are not fully enjoying, so you just have to pick your battles.
For the kids who aren’t quite sure what they are into, the best thing you can do is be supportive and not judgmental. Offer a few suggestions! If they are all turned down, give your child an option of three to pick from or do it for them. Kids need to be involved in something. If they hate it at the end of the session move on to something different. Not having some sort of passion or activity, as well as quitting everything they start because they don’t like it can lead to laziness. Something can be a club or activity at school, through another organization or at home reading, painting or training the neighborhood dogs…the point is to get involved in something other than school academics and home, to make that something theirs. An activity may or may not lead them to a true passion, but kids will learn from every single experience whether it’s that they love the mathematics in music, hate being on stage but enjoy helping with lights or costumes, or that they can’t hit a baseball to save their life, but can swim a wicked backstroke. Finding something they are good at is priceless. And I don’t mean that MasterCard commercial kind of priceless…I mean there is nothing that truly measures up to when a child discovers that they are good — really good at something.
Don’t feel the need to schedule every minute of your child’s day. Kids need down time. It’s hard to balance school, homework AND extra-curriculars, especially if you have multiple children. Yes, being well rounded is wonderful but too much can cause unneeded stress. Depending on what your child can handle and their homework level, keep it to 1-3 activities in addition to school per week, tops. Have them pick their favorites or alternate fall/spring if possible, maybe take summer off…I promise you they won’t forget everything.
There are also some kids who know exactly what they are meant to do on this earth, and will thank you every day when they’re older for allowing them to explore that. Those kids are tough because they think they can handle it all. Truth is, they probably can, so your job is to make sure they have that down time when they’re not out trying to rule the world. Seriously— let them do their thing. Require downtime instead of involvement since they have that covered. They may hate it and tell you that it’s ruining their dream, that they will never learn how to repair a broken circuit board if you keep them home for 5 hours a week…but they will, and they will thank you for it later. It’s important no matter how strong your passion is, how old you are, or how long your to-do list is to sit back and smell the flowers, sip your drink and enjoy life!! World domination can wait (in most cases!)
Helping our children find, develop or tame their passion can be a challenge, but don’t forget that kids watch and absorb everything. We need to lead by example and show our kids that while we give them the world and turn our lives upside down for their happiness, we also have a passion that needs attention too. If you find a way to balance all of that every day AND cook a healthy dinner every night, please give me your secret