We keep looking for the silver lining in the past Year That Was Like No Other, and as we talk to other parents, one thing comes up over and over: “my kid discovered they really love _____.”
Whether it’s manga or chemistry, dystopian fiction or skateboarding, fundraising for charities or puzzles or listening to 90s music (which kids our call “that song from TikTok,” sigh), it’s amazing to see some of our kids discover new interests, passions, and hobbies that they may not have even discovered under other circumstances. Let’s just say skipping the commute to and from school can leave a lot of time for other stuff.
As parents, we’re hoping we can keep encouraging our kids’ passions, because don’t we all want our children to find the things that bring them joy?
We’ve spent a lot of time talking about this with various child experts and authors on our podcast, and researching and reading for all kinds of articles we’ve published here over the years. And since this is a question so many of us have, we thought we’d put some of the best tips, with the most recent research and expert advice, all together here.
Photo: Kathleen Schwartz Photography via Outschool
We’re so happy that we get to bring you our best advice on behalf of our sponsor Outschool, the innovative education platform with so many fans right here at CMP. (They’re not only a sponsor, we’re also a client, haha.) Outschool offers tons of engaging, interactive, live online classes that allow kids to explore their interests — or find new ones — with passionate, engaging, vetted instructors who share their interests too.
With that, here are 5 expert tips for helping nurture, encourage, and grow your kids’ passions.
How to nurture your kids’ passions: 5 expert tips
This is a time that we have really been able to see our kids up close, get to know them better and hopefully they got to know themselves too. Like Christina’s articles — maybe they’re baking or TikTok dancing or raising money for charities or turning their old clothes into new ones. It doesn’t have to be an academic pursuit — chess is great but so is drawing! And hey, so is Minecraft.
1. Change your thinking from “finding your passion” to “developing your passions”
As moms to hockey kids, theater kids, dance kids, and horseback kids, we totally understand how descriptive labels like those help us connect with a community of like-minded kids and families. But if your kids see themselves only as a theater kid or a hockey kid, it could actually limit them, encouraging the belief that they have somehow already found their “one passion.”
A much cited Stanford research paper on this topic explains that our interests and passions change and evolve with time, age, experience, and wisdom. In other words, kids will have lots of interests! And that’s good! Most of us are not trying to raise prodigies here, we’re trying to raise fully functioning humans, with lots of different interests worth developing.
In fact, the researchers also suggest that if we focus one one single interest that our kids have, it can give the impression that interests are fixed, which is far from the truth, and even stop them from trying new hobbies or activities that they might love.
So when you see your kid interested in something, help them develop it and see where it leads.
2. Don’t think of their passions as a career path
There’s a lot of talk in certain parenting circles (no judgment!) that pursuits like gaming, LEGO, or even sports and performing arts are a waste of time somehow because they will not end up being your kids’ college major. Gah!
Of course anything can become a career — yes, even Fortnite — but we shouldn’t be talking to our kids about their earning potential right now, if you know what we mean.
There’s a terrific article by Molly Conway about the trap of turning hobbies into careers in the “age of the hustle.” While it’s written for adults, the advice still holds; when you allow your kids to just enjoy their passions, without pushing them to monetize it or turn it into a career path, they’ll feel less pressure and likely enjoy it more. And we all know that when you enjoy an activity for its own sake, it allows you to experiment with it, take different paths, make mistakes, and get back up again.
That’s supported by the research that 70% of kids are quitting sports by age 13, in part because it’s “not fun anymore.”
Let’s just let our kids play. Or write, or watch, or read, or dance, or build, or memorize the dictionary, if that’s their thing.
3. Let your kids’ passions guide your interests, not the other way around.
It’s hard when you love something so much, your kid shows aptitude and talent for it… and then they’re just not into in it anymore. (Ask us how we know, ha.) But as Dr. Janice Johnson Dias recently reminded us, we shouldn’t be trying to live our own dreams through our kids.
Your child is their own person, and their passions will be their own. Maybe they’ll love something you already love, but maybe not.
That means supporting them, in whatever it is they’re interested in. If your kid loves Among Us, don’t roll your eyes. Among Us is very appealing for a lot of reasons, especially now — and it’s a great idea to look it up, read about it, understand it, and maybe even ask to play with them. Who knows, you could discover a fun new family pastime.
If your child loves K-pop or stand-up comedy, painting rainbows, repairing bikes, braiding hair or making slime, it’s all good. Also, you will get your kitchen back one day, promise.
4. Encourage their passions by supporting them in tangible ways
If your kids love art, a new water color set or a digital pencil for the tablet they’re always stealing is such a meaningful gift. If they are obsessed with Broadway, make Friday nights “Broadway night” and agree to make popcorn and stream a different classic musical together each week. A fresh pack of batteries and some how-to books or STEM toys may be the most exciting gift in the world to a kid who’s into circuitry.
Kids want to feel like their interests are supported by their parents, not just tolerated — and they definitely know the difference.
Of course we love taking our kids places that support their interests — skating rinks, museums, sporting events, lessons of all kinds — but we’re a little limited on that front these days. Which is why we’re so grateful Outschool and their incredible roster of online classes. Our own kids have even taken some really cool courses there.
I mean, these classes are amazing. And the range? There are more than100,000 live online classes for kids of all ages, to encourage virtually any passion you can imagine:
– A search for “animation” yields dozens of courses, including a manga drawing class taught by a professional anime voice actor and illustrator.
– If they play video games nonstop, maybe they’ll love an intro to video game coding course so they can make their own. (For tweens, I happen to love that there’s a Minecraft + History of Architecture class, wow.)
– For fans of YouTube Halloween makeup tutorials, there’s a whole class in Special FX makeup. (Wounds! Scars! Blood!)
– Teens can learn origami or rock band bass or Hamilton choreography or intro to Japanese.
– Preschoolers who love puzzles and counting can take a SuperHero Challenge class in which they “save the city” by solving math problems! Or they can learn beginning ballet…with a Frozen theme, just to sweeten the deal.
Again, let your kids’ own interests guide them. If they are obsessed with RPG, why not sign them up to learn Dungeons & Dragons? At least they’ll be connecting with other kids with the same interest, maybe making some friends.
And most importantly, they’ll know that you care about what they care about. That matters.
5. Reinforce your kids’ passions with these five words
We’ve spoken before about how successful athletes have one thing in common: When they were kids their parents always said the words: “I love watching you play.” It’s not about winning, It’s not about losing. It’s not about being “the best.”
You an adapt these words to any passion your kids may have:
“I love watching you cook”
“I love watching you dance”
“I love watching you build those LEGO towers”
In the end, that may be the simplest, most effective way in the world to help nourish our kids’ passions.
Even if they change again tomorrow.
Thank you so much to our wonderful sponsor Outschool, for helping us inspire a love of all kinds of learning in our kids — and letting us do it so affordably. Sign up for a live, professionally taught online course today: Most courses are around $10-15 per class, with some as low as $5. And if you need financial aid, be sure to check out Outschool.org, to give all kids quality, engaging learning opportunities.
All photos uploaded by users, courtesy Outschool