Help your child find what inspires them
by brenda maas
photos by jana graham
Some people are born with it. Others discover it relatively easily. Yet for others it remains elusive
It’s what trips your trigger. Floats your boat. Makes your heart-and brain-sing. And, while many adults have their passions, children can, too. These are the kids who are not necessarily superb at particular skill, but those that grab at it with both hands, smiling the entire time.
Lisa M. Lopez, MSW, LCSW, has 19 years of experience and currently works as a social worker for Billings Public Schools. She says, “Children are quite capable of finding passion—they are not as limited in their thinking as adults are, and they often find it in everyday activities.” Adults, on the other hand, often suppress their passion because of guilt, exhausting or fear.
Dr. James Peak, a psychiatrist with Billings Clinic, has worked with children and teens for 17 years. He gives the example of the young boy who knows the name of every single dinosaur that ever lived along with detailed characteristics as passionate. However, he also notes that the same boy may one day just drop this dino obsession and move on to something else. What is important, he says, is that the child works his way through this developmental phase on his own timeframe and that he is supported during that time. That same boy may, much later in life, become a museum curator or paleontologist. Or, he may become something completely different. Either way, he feels passion.
The next child may be attracted to dance but her passion intensifies over time, and matures, instead of fading. She works hard to master her art—sometimes faltering—but unknowingly building irreplaceable self-confidence in the process.
Still the next child may not display a “passionate” nature but rather “grazes” throughout childhood—he dabbles with this and tries a season with that. Dr. Peak stresses the uniqueness of each child and notes that having a passion is not a requirement of childhood. Regardless, experts agree that parents can play a crucial role in helping their child discover and nurture his or her own unique passions.
You Cannot Gift It
First, and foremost, notes Dr. Peak, parents must realize that they cannot give their child passion. By definition, the passion reaches out and touches the individual—it is something that speaks to him alone. Think of your own passions or hobbies—do you do them because someone else wants you to participate in that activity or because it gives you a sense of completion and satisfaction?
Finding the child’s passion is not the parents’ job, says Dr. Peak, but rather parents should guide and support him in his exploration. Not every child has a deep, intense passion. “And that’s perfectly fine,” he adds.
Exploring = Discovery
Regardless, try to expose your child to a variety of activities and experiences. Dr. Peak especially cautions against bringing only your own interests to the table and instead suggests thinking outside the box, outside your comfort zone.
“In our society kids are awarded for being good athletes and for being good students, but that doesn’t fit everyone,” he notes. “And sometimes we feel like we have to mold our child and his interests into something that is structured or lucrative, or we try to impose too much of our own passions onto him.”
Lopez adds, “The key is that exposure should be exactly that—an opportunity to experience something new. The focus should not be on the outcome or performance, but rather the process.”
Be prepared for both positive and negative experiences, cautions Lopez. Let your child and his interests—not yours—drive this exploration.
“That is how we weed out our likes and dislikes in life. One of the most valuable gifts you can bestow upon your child is a sense of self. A child who knows who he is, aside and separate from peers, a child who knows what he wants, and a child who has the drive and courage to say no to something and follow this desire is going to enjoy passion.”
John M. Drescher in his book, When Your Child is 6 to 12, notes that children in this age group will bend over backward to please their parents, so how a parent reacts during this exploration is undeniably important.
“During the years six to twelve, the child’s emotional and cognitive development is happening quickly and in concert. Not only does the child remember the facts of what happened, the child is equally able to recall the feelings accompanying a situation.” Therefore the emotional aspect packs an extra punch.
Clue In But Don’t Be Clueless
Dr. Peak also advises that parents watch for clues from the child. What seems to put a smile on his face and a question on his lips? How can you build on that in a positive way? Children will naturally gravitate toward things that interest them—foster this attraction. Even if it something totally foreign to you.
While parents should be receptive and understanding, they must also guide the child and activity—sometimes too much of a good thing can turn it sour. If a child seems super-driven, examine why. Does he feel that he needs to be perfect? What really is the driving force?
Every child brings something unique into the world, just as each child seeks a sense of purpose and fulfillment. Being passionate is a way to find that fulfillment. As a parent, you can support the child’s explorations and interests, and in all likelihood, he will surprise and delight you. After all, passion is not really the goal—it’s the journey. Relish it with your kids. SFM
Brenda Maas lives a rich life that includes gardening, biking, photography and the current passions of her husband and three sons.