Anyone who has tried to start a campfire knows it doesn’t just happen. Ask any Scout, and they’ll tell you that there are a few things you need: heat, fuel, and oxygen. For the campfire novices, this means that you’ll need your kindling for the fire (logs, newspaper, or the paper plate from your hot dog dinner), some air (that’s the easy part), and a spark. The spark, or heat source, interacts with what is already there, using it as fuel to ignite and grow into a flame, and then into a roaring blaze.
Helping a child discover his or her passion is like starting that campfire (though it will probably take more time and consideration). Start by looking for ways to provide them with fuel–experiences, opportunities, and conversations to lay a foundation for their interests to develop. Then, ignite the spark by allowing them to try various activities and hobbies until they find one that interests them. Finally, fan the spark of passion by encouraging them, and helping them to know when it’s time to try something else and when to stick it out.
If you want to help your child catch the spark and discover their passion, check out these ten tips from our Georgia elementary school teachers:
1. Give them diverse opportunities.
Your heart might be set on your son becoming the next Babe Ruth or your daughter the next Taylor Swift, but it’s essential to give them a wide range of experiences and activities and allow them to naturally gravitate where they will. Try sports. Try instruments. Try art. Try dance. Travel as a family. Attend shows, concerts, and sports games. Pay attention to what piques your child’s interest and go from there.
2. Encourage their natural talents.
As your children grow and develop, you’ll notice that there may be some things they just have a knack for. Ask your child’s teacher about areas in the classroom where they’ve noticed your child doing well. Does your son excel in math? He might enjoy a computer coding class. Does your daughter adore art? Head to the local craft store and let her peruse the shelves.
3. Don’t force it.
Maybe you dreamed of making it to Broadway. Then life happened, and Broadway…didn’t. As tempting as it is, try not to let this drive you to push your child into becoming the next Kristin Chenoweth so you can live vicariously through her. Let your dreams be your dreams. Part of what makes parenting so fun is that your child may end up with wildly different passions from your own. And while the apple may not fall far from the tree in some ways, try to allow your child to discover what they are really passionate about without feeling the need to do something that may not be for them just to please you.
4. Challenge them.
While it’s important not to force your child to do something they adamantly believe isn’t for them, it’s okay to challenge them to try new things and step out of their comfort zone. If they’re working toward that next karate belt but feel a little disheartened about the amount of work and effort required, challenge them to push a little harder and remind them of the joy of reaching that goal.
5. Read to them.
Reading to your child is a great way to open their minds to endless possibilities. Through books and stories, children may discover something they otherwise never would have considered or had an interest in.
The same can go for movies as well. Watching movies together as a family can help you understand where your child’s interests lie and what sort of things light that spark.
6. Go to church.
Many people find their passions through attending and serving at church. Churches provide unique opportunities for people of all ages to use their talents and interests in an others-focused manner. This is a great way to teach children the value of using their gifts to bless and serve others.
7. Share your passions.
Yes, you don’t want to force your dreams upon your children. But that doesn’t mean you can’t share them! Children should see their parents pursuing their own passions. They’ll begin to model this behavior, even if they seek something different. Talk with your children about the things you love, why you enjoy them, and the work you had to put in to improve on those interests. The best way to teach is always to model.
8. Introduce them to mentors.
Look for trusted adults around you whose passions may resemble your child’s interests. Then ask if your child can watch the adult mentor in action, allowing them to ask questions and learn from someone with experience. Seeing the potential that they could reach will enable children to weigh their options with better clarity and understanding.
9. Try something non-traditional.
You don’t have to sign your child up for piano, ballet, or soccer if they aren’t interested. Everyone else might do it, but it’s okay to think outside the box. So go ahead, sign her up for that summer underwater basket weaving class. Let him try out Grandpa’s old mandolin that’s been sitting in the back of your closet. Maybe it will take, maybe it won’t, but you never know what it could lead to.
10. Just ask.
It seems so simple, but it deserves a mention. If you want to know what your child’s interests are, ask. If you want to know what hobby they’d like to try, ask. This doesn’t necessarily mean chasing every whim of the week, but it will give you a good idea of where their interests lie and encourage conversations that will help them nurture and develop their passions even more.
It’s never too early or too late to start helping your child discover their passion. Intentionality will go a long way in uncovering the interests that make your child who they are. Exposing children to diverse experiences and paying close attention to the things that excite them will help you better understand how to encourage and challenge them as they develop this essential part of who they are.