Finding Your Kids’ Passion in Life

In today’s fast-paced world, there is a lot of pressure put on parents to get their kids involved in any and every activity that might possibly help them develop into educated, accomplished and well-rounded adults, capable of keeping up with their peers and the world. Parents are urged to choose the “right” preschool for their kids (often before they are even born!), put them in sports, summer camp, start them on a musical instrument and get them going on any number of the other endless options that are out there when it comes to educational experiences and extra-curricular activities. And all this busy-ness can really be stressful and exhausting for everyone involved, even when kids are enjoying each activity.

 

It is true that many experts have shown that extra-curricular activities really do benefit kids in a variety of ways. Participation can lead to better grades, a higher sense of self esteem and better time management skills as well as greater presence of mind in old age. Lisa J. Crockett, Ph.D., a psychology professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln did a study tracking over 300 kids from age 14 into adulthood. Her conclusion was, “Participating in extra-curricular activities appeared to feed their higher expectations of self; those study subjects who participated more in activities reached higher levels of education than kids who were less involved.” Her research also showed that participation in a variety of activities helped with early identity development, transforming some of the questions they ask themselves. The kids without activities often asked more general questions like “Who am I?” or “What do I want to do?” whereas those that were involved in more than just what was going on during the school day and at home actually asked more complex questions like, “Do I like this?” and “Am I skilled at it?” So, activities can lead to real aspirations and eventually genuine achievement.

 

If you’re lucky, your kids aren’t reluctant to get fired up about anything they get their hands on, and will at least try out whatever you throw their way. But, are your kids really passionate about their lives, or are they just overwhelmed by it all? And what do experts agree is the rule of thumb when it comes to choosing the right activities for your kids and getting them involved?

 

I read a great article last year in Good Housekeeping in the “good advice” section by mom Valerie Frankel called “Help your kid find her Passion” that offered up some great information on this topic. It offers 4 really solid tips for parents about how many extra-curricular activities you should get your kids involved in, how to introduce them into your schedule so you can enjoy the most positive experience and how to keeps kids passion ignited when they start to lose focus and interest.

 

  1. “Pick a pair.” Neuroscientist Tina Seelig, Ph.D. bases the perfect number of extra-curriculars for kids on the concepts behind the military system, which follows the “Rule of Three.” Experts within the military have found that people can only track three things at once, and that when they experimented with adding a fourth thing, productivity dropped. So, to follow this rule, parents should count school as one thing and pick two other activities.
  2. “Take the slow road.” While parents are always tempted to look at what the most seemingly driven and advanced kids are doing and try to get their kids on the same exact path, this isn’t always the best path for them. Not all kids get interested in music, sports, school or anything else at a young age. Sometimes interest and passion take a while to develop. William Damon, Ph.D. and director of the Stanford University Center on Adolescence stresses that as many as 55 – 60 percent of adolescents and young adults are still searching for a direction in life. He says that eventually all kids find a purpose, and that part of the problem is the availability of too many options:  “Our culture presents youngsters with so many options and opportunities that a parent’s job is to help a child maintain forward momentum.” So, get involved and excited about doing some exploring with your child instead of pushing them. Katharine Brooks, Ed.D. advocates “wise wandering:”  “We wander to find our passions. Do experiences have value only if they tell us what we want? Probably not. You also have to spend time learning what you don’t want.”
  3. “Try, try again.” Frankel has watched her own kids “wander” through a variety of activities, from studying musical instruments, to trying out multiple sports. And she has been frustrated when her kids have lost interest and decided to quit, even sometimes quitting activities she felt they were really good at. However, experts say there are three stages of learning:  “unconscious incompetence,” when a child picks up something thinking it will be as easy as the professionals make it look; “conscious incompetence,” when a kid realizes it is hard and a lot of practice will be required to get it right; “conscious competence,” when the child actually puts in the work and become proficient. A lot of kids (and even adults who are learning something for the first time!) give up at stage 2. And sometimes, “giving up” is just a break brought on by frustration; they simply need to step back and take some time to regain confidence and really commit to it. So, parents shouldn’t be discouraged when their kids give up, because they may very well come back to it later.
  4. “Search for a spark.” A lot of parents might make only encourage activities that they see their kids excelling at, even though their kids are only lukewarm about participating. Damon says, “Any healthy passion, anything your child enjoys, should be encouraged” … even if there doesn’t appear to be true talent for it. Your kid’s enjoyment is the #1 priority, and kids can still get tons of benefits from this experience. He says that it all starts with a “spark:”  “Every kid has one.” You may not know what your child’s spark is yet, but there are ways to draw it out. Ask your kids questions like, “What’s important to you?” “What’s your favorite subject at school?” or even ask why they like a certain show so much while you’re watching it together. And make sure to schedule some unstructured family time, because this time can give you some great clues about your kids’ passions. If you’re having just a lazy day on the weekend, ask what your son or daughter wants to do. You’ll likely start to notice a pattern when they pick the same types of activities over and over again.Brooks prefers using the word “energy” over “passion:”  “Watch your child and look for what gives him energy. If it’s playing with cats, see if he can volunteer at an animal shelter.”

 

What are your kids energetic about these days? Please feel free to tell us about it in the comments section! Our son really likes flying on the trapeze. He also loves swimming (which he does every single week!). And as you’re thinking about ways to ignite your kids’ inner sparks, listen to our song “Four Years Old” about all the fun we get to have wondering about the many great things our kids might be when they grow up!