Help your kids discover and nurture their talents with these tips.
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Dancing was my daughter’s thing.
Twirling around in her purple tutu she would dance to just about anything.
Steve Songs, The Sound of Music Soundtrack, and Bach – were all dance-worthy tunes that would inspire her to leap and jump and spin around our living room – sometimes for hours on end.
I loved seeing my daughter explore this interest. She was passionate about dancing and it took no effort to focus her attention and energy on it.
Like most parents, early on I was on the look out for my daughter’s passion – something that she would explore to no end and would fill her with purpose and pride.
Dance appeared to be it. (or so I thought…)
6 Ways to Spot and Nurture Your Child’s Talents
When my daughter showed signs of loving dance, I began to wonder – what role should parents play – if any – in both helping their children find their purpose and nurturing it?
Here’s what I’ve found:
Embrace the kid you’ve got
We all have big dreams for our kids, but it’s important to recognize every child is unique with their own ambitions, desires, and goals.
Embracing the kid you’ve got means trying our best to silence what we think (and more often, what society tells us) is the definition of success. It means letting go of comparisons to the kid next door, your best friend’s daughter or even the child you imagine your son to be.
This quote by Julie Lythcott-Haims sums it up well (I’ve altered it slightly for readability):
Sit back and observe
It can be tempting to sign your son up for hockey because you played varsity in high school, or to get your daughter involved in gymnastics because you once had ambitions of competing in the Olympics. But it’s important to be alert to what our kids are interested in and gravitate towards naturally.
- Do you frequently find your daughter drawing with Craypas or is she more likely to run around the backyard and kick a soccer ball?
- Does your son like to build castles and roads with blocks or is he more likely to be found with his head in a book?
- Or maybe you frequently find your kids counting objects, finding patterns, and testing their math skills?
After making these observations, seek out materials and supplies that can help your child explore their interests further. It might also make sense to sign your child up for a class. Talk to your child about the classes available in your area and go into them with the attitude that this is merely a way to find out if your child is interested in pursuing the activity further.
Set them free
Parents can feel pressure to load up kids’ schedules with multiple classes, clinics, and practices to see which one sticks. But one of the best ways for kids to discover what they love is to have the freedom and time to simply explore.
It’s through exploration that your kids will stumble upon their interests. While structured activities have their place, giving kids ample downtime will let them develop a sense of wonder – to think about what it is they’re most interested in when it’s up to them to decide.
Unstructured play benefits kids in many ways beyond just discovering what they enjoy doing.
Don’t expect too much too soon
Sure there are maestro violinists who began studying at age four but not everyone will or needs to find their passion in childhood.
In fact, research shows that kids aren’t developmentally ready to reflect and think about their future until the middle school years. So until kids reach that milestone, simply try to expose them to different activities and then take an interest in what interests them.
Foster a growth mindset
Kids who have a growth mindset are more likely to take risks and try new things – therefore opening themselves up to the possibility of finding the one thing or things they feel passionate about. To find out more about developing a growth mindset in kids read the book that coined the phrase: Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.
- Three Ways Parents Can Instill a Growth Mindset
- How Parents Can Instill a Growth Mindset at Home
- Encouraging a Growth Mindset: Resources for Parents
Know when to push and when to hold back
One of the most difficult things for parents supporting their kids’ interests is to know when a child is giving up on something just because it’s too hard or if they genuinely don’t enjoy it.
It can help to talk to teachers and coaches to see what they observe. It’s possible your child might have just begun working on an especially challenging piece of music or is suddenly finding their chosen sport to be more challenging. If this is the case, coaches and teachers should have advice on the best way to encourage and support your child through this road bump.
But if your child seems genuinely not interested – even if they are extremely talented – pushing them to continue an activity could ultimately lead to resentment for not letting them forge their own path.
Although it might be heartbreaking to see your child give up an activity they’re talented in, it’s possible that by pausing an activity your child might realize they actually enjoy it. Or they might instead discover another activity they love even more.
The surprising twist I wasn’t expecting
Shortly after my daughter began taking dance classes, friends and teachers commented on her talent. She seemed to glide across the floor gracefully in perfect time with the music and caught on quickly to choreographed pieces.
This is it – I thought in the back of my head – this is the activity that will give my daughter purpose through her school years and beyond.
But after five years of dance, the glow in my daughter’s eye began to fade. Hints were made about how boring ballet was and how it just didn’t seem to be her thing anymore.
It was around this same time my daughter decided to give basketball a try – and within a few weeks, she was hooked. The tutus and leotards were quickly replaced by sports shorts and high-top shoes.
It wasn’t easy to let go of the girl I imagined my daughter would become and embrace the one she discovered she wanted to be.
But in the end, the only way she’ll find her true passion in life is to pursue activities that interest her and fill her with confidence and a sense of purpose.
Even if it means I’ll no longer get to see that cute purple tutu twirling around our living room.
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About Kerry Flatley
Hi! I’m Kerry, the mother of two girls and a certified parent educator. I believe it is possible for parents to have a supportive, loving, and warm relationship with their kids while raising them to be independent and ultimately self-sufficient. Over the years, I’ve read numerous books and articles that support this belief and I’ve put these ideas into practice with my own kids. Read more about me and Self-Sufficient Kids here.