One of my favourite episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm is one where Larry buys his new girlfriend’s young son a sewing machine. What’s great about this episode is how it highlights something I think all parents wrestle with when it comes to their kids. Should my child do what they want to do, or what I want them to do? Should I force activities on my child or should I let them choose what activities they want to do? How much pressure should I put on them to carry on with something I know (think) will be rewarding if they just pursued it a bit longer?
Before I even had my son, Zane, he was already going to be a black belt in BJJ and a bass player. That’s would be on top of his piano skills and his gymnastics skills. His basketball prowess would be a sight to behold, and his love of non-fiction books would be legendary. But what if he doesn’t want to do those things? What if he wants to be a golfer who loves Dan Brown novels? These are the questions I am debating with myself as my son starts to grow to an age where he will be able to start these kinds of activities (OK, maybe not the reading of non-fiction books just yet). I’ve distilled my thoughts into some points which I thought I’d share with ya’ll below.
- Young children don’t have the same ability to judge whether they don’t like something in the same way adults do. They can easily mistake dislike with the feeling of simply being uncomfortable because something is new. Can pushing them to carry on for a few sessions get them through that initial adversity or will it cement their dislike even more?
- Is what we’re trying to get them to do something that is appropriate for their age?
- Would they excel more at team pursuits or solo activities?
- Are we starting them too early?
- Are we doing this for ourselves, or for them?
- Are we unknowingly ignoring their actual interests because they don’t align with the activities we’ve predetermined for them?
- Are we scheduling too many activities for them?
- Is it their dream to play for <insert favourite football team here>, or ours?
I think it’s our duty as parents to introduce our children to as wide a variety of activities as possible, but it’s also our duty to make sure they have the choice about whether they want to carry on that activity. I don’t believe we should force our children into something just because it’s something we see them doing, or something we’ve always wanted to see them do. Introduce them to these things, of course, but we need to ensure we’re able to put aside our own feelings when we know their heart just isn’t in it. That said, I think there are exceptions to this. For example, ensuring your child can swim (or is at least able to doggy paddle!) from an early age is an important survival skill which could save their lives.
We all have a picture of what we want our kids to be and what we want them to be interested in, and there is nothing wrong with that. But I believe the happiest kids are those who are empowered to make their own decisions and take charge of their lives as much as possible at all times.
So, if Zane wants a sewing machine, then a sewing machine he shall have.
Written by Adrian Moore