Do your kids have a passion for hobbies? Here’s why we should encourage children’s interests, no matter how strange or different they may seem to us.
“I’ve had it with fountains,” I complained to my husband. What had been a cute quirk—my son’s fascination with fountains—was getting out of hand. It even took over an outing at the zoo, where he’d rush to see fountains instead of the bears and monkeys.
Still, I bit my tongue. As strange of an interest as it was to have, fountains still held a special place in our son’s heart.
So we did what we thought would help nurture it even more. We made a photo book of all the fountains we’d taken photos of (because there were quite a few). We’d ask to sit near fountains at restaurants, and showed him footage online of famous fountains around the world.
Later, he moved from fountains to bridges. Now it was all about borrowing books from the library about bridges. Driving through them, and building them with toys.
Meanwhile, his little brothers have had their own obsessions, though maybe a bit more typical. They love any type of automobiles—cars, trucks, trains. I can’t even keep track of how many little cars we have.
Why we need to encourage children’s interests
At some point, children’s interests can feel overwhelming. Sometimes they take up so much of your time and money, like little league or gymnastics. Other times, they’re so unusual that your initial plans get screwed up (like visiting fountains instead of zoo animals).
We might have hoped they’d be interested in our own passions (like sports or music). Or we have no idea what to make of them (what exactly do you do when your child loves vacuums?).
Still, we should encourage their interests, no matter how strange or different they may be from ours. Here’s why:
1. Kids will open up about their interests
Supporting our children’s interests opens up a fantastic way to communicate with them.
Let’s say your child is interested in marine animals. Imagine how much she’ll share what she knows as you take her to your local aquarium. Maybe you can borrow books about sharks and share those moments with her. You might give her a stuffed animal about whales and sting rays.
These are all ways to open up a floodgate of words and stories she can’t help but talk about. This is especially useful if she doesn’t seem to say much—ask her about her interests, and you’re bound to get her talking.
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2. Kids are motivated to learn
Your child is more likely to pursue her passions than she is about other topics she’s not exactly excited about. It’s much easier to encourage learning about airplanes to a child who already has an interest in it.
Not only will she learn about airplanes, she’s also likely to do well in academics in general, even if it doesn’t have to do with her particular passion. Researchers share how the power of interest can drive learning:
“In recent years researchers have begun to build a science of interest, investigating what interest is, how interest develops, what makes things interesting, and how we can cultivate interest in ourselves and others. They are finding that interest can help us think more clearly, understand more deeply, and remember more accurately. Interest has the power to transform struggling performers, and to lift high achievers to a new plane.”
In other words, by encouraging her passions and interests, you’re also helping her do well in other areas, too.
3. We won’t force our interests
We parents sometimes make the mistake of unloading our interests on the kids. At some level this is normal and even good. After all, it’s how they learn the values and interests their families hold, and offers a way for the family to bond.
Except it’s one thing to share your love of baseball or orchestra music with your child. It’s another to expect her to hold that same interest when she’d rather pursue another.
You’re better attuned to her when you support her interests instead of assuming she’ll simply follow yours. You’ll learn more about her based on where her interests lead them. And you’ll know how to support those interests than if you were oblivious to them.
4. Our support reinforces our love
Let’s say your child is interested in a topic you know nothing about, or even seems strange to you. You might not have grown up interested in that topic, and could care less about it now.
But imagine how crestfallen she might feel if she realizes her parents don’t support the one thing she feels so passionate about. She might even feel like something’s wrong with her, or ashamed at why no one else seems to understand her interest in the topic.
Instead, support her interests, no matter how off-beat or different her interests might be. You’ll avoid isolating her when you offer your full support and encouragement. More important, your support reminds her just how loved she is, no matter what.
How to support children’s interests
Now that we know the importance of supporting our children’s interests, how can we best do so? We’ve mentioned a few ideas above, but let’s dive into specific ways to take advantage of your child’s passions. These are simple ideas with a huge impact:
1. Find books about the topic
What has your child been interested in these days? Is it drawing cartoons, playing ninja, or learning about farm animals? Whatever her interest, you’re bound to find a related book in the library or book store.
Make trips to the library a weekly event, with each week including books she’s interested in. Read these books throughout the day, or as part of your bedtime routine.
2. Give toys about the topic
Besides books, giving your child toys about the topic is another fantastic way to support her interests. Look for toys and gifts that tie in to her current passions.
Maybe it’s the painting set for the child who can’t get enough art, or the cars and train sets for the one who loves automobiles. Perhaps it’s a science kit, miniature dinosaurs, or safari stuffed animals, with each catering to your child’s interests.
3. Ask questions and listen
The best way to learn more about your child and her interests is simply to ask her about them. Ask open-ended questions to get her to share more about what she likes (instead of responding with one-word answers). Encourage critical thinking, and allow her to open up in whichever direction she likes.
Then, listen without judgment. Don’t correct too quickly, even if she has her facts wrong—she’ll learn them in due time. Focus less on coming up with something to say in return, and more on being curious about the topic she’s sharing.
We need to encourage our children’s interests, no matter how strange or different they may be from our own. For one thing, our kids are more likely to open up, not just about their interests, but about life in general. They’re motivated to learn and excel in academics, all from being curious in general.
We’re less likely to force our own interests and agenda on our kids, especially when they don’t take to them as much as we’d hoped. And supporting their interests sends the strong message that they are loved, no matter what.
Thankfully, supporting their interests is as simple as reading books and giving them toys related to their passions. And of course, asking questions and listening with curiosity about their interests.
I still have that photo book of fountains we compiled for my son during his fountain stage. It reminds me how important it is to support our children’s interests, no matter how odd they may be.
And that deep in his mind and heart, he found something wonderful about fountains. The way they work, and the beauty they reveal.
And I’m willing to support that any day.
Get more tips:
- 6 Reasons to Stop Labeling Kids
- 18 Children’s Books about Acceptance — Of Others and Yourself
- 4 Reasons Kids Need Downtime
- The Harmful Effects of Comparing Our Kids
- Are You Living Through Your Kids? Why You Should Find Your Own Meaning
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