My husband and I don't agree on choosing activities for our child. For instance, he would like our 5 year old son to go to a soccer class. I want my son to choose his activities by himself but hubby asks, "How is he going to find things out without trying?" I trust he will.
This is an interesting question, and I suspect it is one that many parents can relate to. On one hand, we want our children to pursue their natural interests and inclinations. But on the other hand, discovering those interests may depend upon being exposed to them.
When my son was five or six, I took him to basketball tryouts. He was resistant. "I don't like basketball, Mom. I'm not good at it!" I acknowledged his reluctance and let him be uncomfortable. When we got to the gym, he clung tightly to me. I let him take his time.
I reminded Ari of things that had been really hard for him initially, but that he could now do well -- like reading or tying his shoes. Because I both acknowledged his fears and reminded him of his past ability to do hard things, he agreed to try.
I didn't insist that he do a great job, but simply that he see what it was like.
Basketball became one of my son's greatest joys. From that day until now, he loved being on the court -- not because he wanted to be an NBA player, but simply because it was a way to have fun and push his limits.
Back to your question: I think it's admirable of parents to let their children take the lead in terms of their passions. Many kids make it known early on that they love music or sports or art or mathematics. Parents should do all they can to support them in developing their natural talents.
But I also believe that it's important that we gently expose our kids to a few activities they might not have thought of. Many artists say they only discovered their joy of painting after taking an art class. Writers often confess that it was a structured writing course that propelled their career.
It's not necessary to force children to participate in an activity; had Ari been vehemently against basketball after the tryout, I wouldn't have pursued it, perhaps trying again a year or so later.
But it's wonderful if we can give our kids a taste of a variety of what life has to offer, particularly when arts and athletic programs are given such minimal attention these days in school because of budget cuts.
In Howard Gardner's Multiple Intelligence model, each one of us come into life with our own flavor of genius. By giving your son a chance to discover and explore life with joy and curiosity, I have no doubt he will discover his unique gifts.
Susan Stiffelman is the author of Parenting Without Power Struggles: Raising Joyful, Resilient Kids While Staying Cool, Calm and Connected and the brand new Parenting with Presence: Practices for Raising Conscious, Confident, Caring Kids (An Eckhart Tolle Edition). She is a family therapist, parent coach and internationally recognized speaker on all subjects related to children, teens and parenting.
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