The start of the school year brings enthusiasm. A new class, friends, and experiences are all exciting. Many kids can’t wait to try every activity introduced by teachers and peers. So, should you let your child try it all or is it better to encourage him to stick with one or two areas he already enjoys, and in which he may already show signs of excelling?
It can be tempting to let your child try every new activity. After all, childhood is the best time to explore and grow—and there’s no way for her to discover a passion without trying many things. On the other hand, too much diversification can make it difficult for a child to immerse herself fully in a new experience and it can become confusing and stressful for her.
So, is it possible to encourage exploration and find your child’s passion, without her becoming overwhelmed and distracted? Yes! Here are four simple steps that will give your child opportunities to explore, yet still build upon current passions, talents, and interests:
1. Nurture passion and interest.
If your child shows an interest in, or talent for, any given activity, support this by enrolling him in a class, afterschool activity, or school club that nurtures the interest. Pick one area of passion on which to focus. If an activity is seasonal (like a sport or a school play), you can have a replacement activity once the season is over. The replacement need not be another passion, but can be a new area that your child wants to explore (see #3 below). Stick to one area of passion at a time or your child will become overwhelmed and lose interest in everything.
2. Balance is essential.
Kids younger than 10 don't usually need more than two days a week to work at their area of interest. More than this can cause burnout and possibly an eventual rejection of the activity. In addition, make sure there is time for homework, play, and exploration of other areas. Older children may become more intensely involved in an activity they love or that requires greater commitment to be competitive. This type of commitment is admirable and should be encouraged—but not at the cost of eating, sleeping, school work, or a social life. As the parent, you must make sure your child is physically and emotionally healthy—even if she is an Olympic athlete or superstar in the making!
3. Encourage participation in a new activity.
This can be a sport or creative art that your child has never tried, or even a less structured activity like baking or magic. Ask him to commit at least two or three months to the activity. This is enough time to achieve an initial level of mastery, so that the activity feels more like fun than work. After this period, he can decide whether he wants to continue or move on to something new.
4. Resist the urge to jump on everyone else’s activity bandwagon.
Your child may come home each week with something new to try. Make a list of these activities and explain that she can try one at a time, giving each one at least a couple of months to see if she likes it. You’ll likely find that she’ll lose interest in many of the ideas on the list after her initial nagging.
If you stick to these four tips, your child is sure to become well-rounded while still discovering her passions and talents.
Dr. Susan Bartell is a family psychologist. Her latest book is The Top 50 Questions Kids Ask.