Updated: Jun 16
This past week, I had a direct question from a podcast listener who reached out to me. This reader is a parent, and wanted to know what types of things they could do at home to encourage their child to develop their own interests and hobbies if said child wasn't particularly interested in learning. Being that they, like many other parents, would like their child to live a fulfilled and purposeful life - whatever that looks like - I have no doubt this question is one that pops up often in parents' minds. I sat down and brainstormed some ideas. I mean, I always have lots of ideas, but I wanted to put together a concise list of quality suggestions for this parent - and for the others out there who may be wondering the same thing.
And so...for the parent who's out there wondering about what the best road is for their child, and what to do to get them there, I've set out some guidelines for you here. First and foremost:
Ease Off On The Pressure
Ah, but therein lies the problem. We as a society have this idea that learning must be rigid, structured, and uniform; that everything must have a stated purpose, an overall objective, or a final destination. This is a fundamental principle that I wholeheartedly disagree with - but that's a whole other blog post. If you're interested, you can read it here. Suffice it to say, that pressuring your child is going nowhere fast. The age-old question "What do you want to be when you grow up?" can be so harmful to a child's psyche when there's expectations attached to it. Personally, I like asking these question to my students instead:
1) "What kinds of problems do you want to solve when you're older?" Instead of focusing on the "thing" they are supposed to want to do, they're now focused on what their brain sees as a problem to be solved. Cue high interest level, if they're interested enough in said problem. (It's there; you've just got to find it and get it out of them.)
2) "Where do you think you might like to live as a grown-up?" Living expenses are a thing, as we all know. Certain places, and certain lifestyles, cost more than others. There's no wrong answer to this one, but it's going to provide insight into what kind of career choice needs to be made.
3) "Do you think that a lot of people like what they do for work? Is that important to you?" Please impress upon them that it is; no matter what career or business path your child chooses, they have the right and the privilege to enjoy what they are doing.
4) "What do you enjoy doing now that you think you'll still like doing as a teenager? As an adult?" Passion. Pure passion. That's the secret here. The old saying holds true: "If you love what you do, you'll never work a day in your life." Your job as a parent is to help your child discover that. You can't give them a better gift.
5) "Do you like working in groups, or do you prefer working alone?" Not everyone is cut out for the corporate world, for being a business owner, for working a 9 - 5, or for working for an NGO. There are so many choices in the working world, and this question should open up a whole discussion about the personality and working skills each career choice entails. There is no wrong answer, just a choice that best suits each individual. These sorts of questions give your child a much wider array of personal choice, allow them to recognize their own autonomy, and encourage them to think about their choices, their life, and the kinds of decisions they will be making in the future.
I know, I know. "What? Games? How does that teach them anything?!" There's an abundance of research out there that states exactly the opposite of what you might initially think. It's a concept called play-based learning, and it's mostly advocated for in younger grades or preschool-age children. Regardless of the child's age, playing games - whether it's board games like Monopoly, physical movement games like Man-Hunt, puzzles like Scrabble, critical thinking games like chess, or a variety of online games from various websites - is a great way to get a child's mind going, using their God-given creativity to find solutions to problems, achieve better results, hit upon an original way of doing something, or to just be, to just exist, to simply enjoy life as a carefree child. As they should.
The advantage with playing games is that it doesn't feel like learning to your child. Not at all. That means the initial resistance - for the parents with the more stubborn children: "I don't want to do school!" - is gone! Disappeared! How is your child going to say no to a game?
Explore With Them
This one should go without saying. You have to do things with your kids. Sure, they should have their own alone time, and their own space to do activities with their friends. But they also should be able to spend time with you, as their parent, doing something of value. I've talked about this on a previous podcast - link here if you're interested. Often times, your child's best memories are going to come from something they have done with you. One of my fondest memories in my childhood is making pancakes, with my dad, from scratch. No pre-mix, no batter with added water, none of the processed stuff. All the good stuff - eggs, flour, and baking soda...except that one time we put baking powder in, and they turned pink on the inside. We all still ate them any way, although I distinctly remember my brother complaining that they tasted odd, and we all lived to tell the tale. What's my point here? That's one of the best childhood memories I have - pink pancakes - and it has, in a very real way, come full circle with my own cooking adventures as an adult.
Get your children out of their comfort zones. It doesn't have to be out of the house if that isn't doable for your situation, but get them out of their comfort zones and learning new skills, with you. Cooking. Working Out. Cleaning. Walking the dogs, or playing with the cat. Puzzles. Board games. Writing activities. The day-to-day stuff you do for your job, business, or career. Involve them in your life and routine. Teach them how to be comfortable being uncomfortable. I’ve got a few other suggestions I’d like to put forward, but I think that just about covers all the things I wanted to discuss on this blog. We’ll continue on this same path next week, focusing in a little more heavily on the psychological side of things when it comes to fostering your child’s learning capabilities.
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