Children are full of unrealised potential, and as parents, we are always looking at how we can help them realise their potential. This often becomes a competition. Maybe your child is only in one sporting team, whereas their friend down the road is in three sporting teams, on the chess team, and is learning the violin and cello.
We never want to push our children into doing something that they don’t want to do, but at the same time, we know that new experiences are invaluable to their growth. So how should you encourage your child to find their niche without becoming a ‘pushy’ parent?
One of our favourite questions to ask children, whether they be our own or not, is: “what do you want to be when you grow up?” This is often followed by an exclamation such as “a firefighter!”, “a ballerina!”, and sometimes “a pony!”. But how do we help them develop their skills so that they can achieve their dreams? And, more importantly, how can we encourage them to pursue their own passions rather than our own?
Make use of the Internet
Your children will naturally gravitate towards certain websites or leisure activities. For some, it might be dress-up games, researching different rocks, or teaching themselves how to play the piano via YouTube. If you have more than one child, you’ll understand how diverse these interests can be not just in one growing brain, but when compared to the other.
Online communities are also a great place for children to share their interests with other children in a safe space. Whether this is through an online game, or another multiplayer game on the internet, your children are being exposed to new ideas, are being social, and having fun all at once.
According to a recent survey, more than 35.3% of Australian parents agreed that their kids had found their own niche interest communities online. Parents of teenagers found this had grown to two in five (39.9%). This included looking into recipes to bake, items to craft, and even using websites such as Tumblr to discuss fictional characters and their OTPs (One True Pairings of characters).
Let them search to their heart’s content
After school, children are brimming with new questions that, no matter how hard we try, we simply don’t have the answer to. Google is an invaluable source of knowledge for children wanting to grow their knowledge of certain topic areas. Perhaps they saw a particular butterfly in the park and they want to identify the species, or perhaps they are interested in researching new clothes or toys to buy.
If you are concerned about your child using the Internet unsupervised, keep the computer in a well-trafficked area in the house. By having child-safety locks in place on your computer, you can rest easy knowing that Google isn’t answering any inappropriate questions or queries.
Encourage your children
It’s often surprising the subject areas that captivate young minds, and although you may not share your child’s newfound passion for archery, you should always encourage it. Often these are mere phases that go as quickly as they came, but by indulging their passions you are not only showing your support, you are enabling them to realise their likes and dislikes on their own terms.
Whether they flourish in their school’s chess team or debate team, always encourage them in the areas they enjoy. Just because your child loves painting, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t enrol them in a sport for fear that they aren’t going outside enough. But if it is for fear that they are going to drop out of school early to pursue being an artist, don’t.
Regardless of what your child decides to do when they leave school, the only thing you can do is encourage them. To build their self-confidence, which is crucial during adolescence, they require support in their decisions and interests. Even if they don’t become the next Mozart or Einstein, they’ll become a well-rounded and fully supported individual.
What's important is that by supporting your child's interests, you're encouraging them to learn. Paul Silvia of University of North Carolina has speculated that perusing interests helps people focus their experiences, therefore assisting in learning and development.
With the Internet offering your children a plethora of new knowledge about the world, make sure to get them out of the house and into the real world as well. It’s one thing to learn about the world and another to actually experience. So, once your child has expressed interest, go out and do it!
Are they interested in animals? Take them to the zoo. Are they interested in rock collecting? Go out and look for rocks with them. This is the first step to encouraging your child to find their niche and to then further explore it by themselves.