It’s important to raise kids who are caring people. But there’s another aspect to caring: we also want our children to discover things they care about, meaning their unique interests and abilities. We want them to find and enjoy all life has to offer them, and moreover, what they have to offer life and society.
Afterschool activities are the perfect venues for allowing children to explore different paths and nurture their talents. Here are three pointers for helping your children find what makes them thrive.
1. Present opportunities to your kids.
This is a no-brainer—but not necessarily simple. You don’t want to overload your child’s schedule, so be selective with activities and mindful of your budget and time limitations. (My motto is to never sign up for something I don’t want to drive to!) I recommend one sport at a time—no need to burn them out when they’re young—and another sort of activity, such as dance or music lessons, a youth group, or a service organization. In addition, vacations can provide excellent opportunities to expose your children to things they may want to pursue in later years, such as surfing, fishing, or snowboarding.
You don’t have to spend a lot of money—many communities offer free programs such as readings at the library, art classes, and jazz in the park.
Of course you’ll also want to do what you can in your own home to set the stage for self-discovery, such as putting out an easel for painting or binoculars for bird-watching. But if all these suggestions sound overwhelming, don’t worry. You have lots of time with your children; it doesn’t have to happen all at once. This is the fun part of parenting. Enjoy being a facilitator and witness to the budding interests of the little people in your charge.
2. Encourage your kids to not give up.
It’s human nature to give up when the first thrill of a new activity wanes. Children don’t yet know that if they keep going, they’ll be rewarded. It’s our job to teach them. Pushing through the difficult phase of acquiring a new skill isn’t fun for any of us, but how happy we are when we get to the other side!
Be your children’s cheerleader, encouraging them to get back up on the pogo stick, practice the piano for 10 more minutes, or finish that friendship bracelet. Use a timer, rewards, hugs, and your own creativity to help them learn the art of perseverance so their particular interests and strengths can take root and grow.
3. Combine passion with compassion.
Here, the two sides of caring come together. You see, when you help your children discover their passions in life, it’s not just for their sake, but also for the sake of others. Just about anything can be used for good, whether it’s making paper airplanes, doing math, taking care of pets, or studying bugs.
When your children light up about something, teach them how that light can brighten the lives of others, too. For instance, when it became clear that my daughter could sing, I told her she was going to bless a lot of people with her voice, and she has. When my son’s interest in science took hold, I would say things like, “What if you discovered a vaccine for autism some day?”
The goal is not to put pressure on our kids, but to give them a vision for using their talents for the greater good. What can be more fulfilling than doing what we love and knowing we’re making a positive difference in the lives of others in the process? This is what we hope for our kids.