My husband and I have been talking recently about how much influence we really have on what interests/hobbies our kids pursue. Are they just born with certain innate talents and inevitable interests? We have our own ideas about what we think would be best or fun for them to do, but offering it to them does not guarantee that they will choose it for themselves.
However, we do want them to learn basic foundational things and to have passions that carry them through the ups & downs of pursuing anything worthwhile. Things such that music, sports, art, etc. can teach. Over time, we have learned what most veteran parents or educators know – performance only goes as deep as ownership. When kids get to choose their own pursuit, there is “buy-in,” excitement, and a positive attitude to push through the inevitable learning curve. If not, you can expect increased friction or laziness.
We’ve learned that we can introduce kids to a multiple of opportunities to see what they become most attracted to. We also watch and listen carefully to see what they might suggest or ask for themselves. I try to test those things to see if it is just a trend or if it really “sticks.” We have a son who out-of-the-blue fell in love with Lacrosse, art, and guitar but we waited patiently with each interest for a while before we started paying more for lessons. Our daughter mentioned wanting to play the violin since she was 2, but we didn’t start her lessons til 5 1/2, and even it was a challenging learning curve of a year, she’s stuck with it, and we are enjoying the music she plays now.
Some things we’ve learned by trial and error:
1. Kindle the flame. When you see a spark, acknowledge it and definitely “kindle it.” Don’t drown it. :) Test it, one step at a time in the beginning with your investment. At some point, though, it’s great to let them jump in and go all-out.
2. Don’t overdo it, though with your own emotion and ideas. There’s a fine line of enthusiasm to walk. While you want to share their interest and offer total love and support, I’ve found that once my excitement trumps theirs, they start pulling back. I take something away from their ownership. It’s really hard to explain, but I’ve seen it happen several times.
3. Give them options, whenever possible. Let them have a voice in their choice of instructor, art/music class, sport or race. When they get to pick, they are now more personally vested in their decision and commitment. We let our oldest son pick his piano instructor. We had a couple come to the house for a trial lesson, and he was able to choose who he resonated with most. It has been a fabulous experience since then!
4. Set them up for early success. My great friend reminded me that I probably say this more often than I knew! For most kids, their emotional association with an initial experience is so powerful. Of course, this varies on each child’s comfort-level with “failure.” But when possible, we try to make those early encounters with something new both fun and memorable. We let them know what to expect, for those kids that need to know. And we’ve set a reasonable trial period for those kids that are tempted to quit early on so they can gain confidence and enjoyment beyond the difficult learning curve.
5. Push when necessary. At some point, there will usually be a time when a child is just not “in the mood” to practice or to go to a lesson, etc. That’s normal. We can be understanding – we all have those days, even as adults. Giving them freedom to pick another time of the day to practice or just double up the next time again places ownership onto their shoulders. But it can also be an opportunity to push into what it takes to really be excellent in something, to choose to have self-discipline and to persevere when things get hard. We can offer that voice of perspective and coaching; the voice that believes something bigger than what they can see right now. Ultimately, though, they have to choose. It grows their own confidence when they know they can push through those challenging times.
These are just a few things that we are still learning as we love and lead our kids. I’d love to hear what things have worked for you and your children.
How do you best lead and inspire them to pursue their own interests?