But is this her thing? Parents’ quest to find their child’s talents and passions.
One of the first parent meetings I ever held when I opened JAG Gym, was with a clearly anxious, deeply loving mother who wanted to discuss with me the progress of her daughter who I will call Katie. According to the mother, Katie seemed to love gymnastics and showed natural talent, but was often distracted in class. Additionally, occasionally Katie resisted coming to the gym because she wanted to continue playing at home.
After letting mom state her concerns and vent a bit about the emotional turmoil this was causing her, mom leaned forward in her chair and looked me dead on in eyes and asked with deep intensity:
“What I mean is that I need your professional advice: is this her thing?”
“Well,” I said slowly, trying to figure out how to be diplomatic with a clearly stressed out parent, “Katie seems to enjoy her gymnastics class once she is here and it is typical that kids become distracted from time to time since there is a lot of activity happening around them. Plus, it has been my experience that when children are engaged in something (such as play) and are interrupted to go on to another activity, that they may express some annoyance. But since she is only 2 and a half, why don’t we give her some time to figure this out.”
The parent, seemingly relieved for the time being, left my office and returned to the toddler and me class.
Is this her thing? It’s a question a member of JAG’s coaching staff or I get at least once a week. Sure, it varies: Is she talented? Do you think she can be any good at this? Should we look into another sport? What is her potential? College scholarship? Olympics?
No matter what the words are, the sentiment is one where parents, experiencing curiosity or even anxiety that they are not doing enough to help their child onto the road of success, are looking for feedback and assurance that their kiddo is at least on the right path to finding something that they are passionate about and good at.
As easy as it is to roll our eyes at the absurdity of trying to determine a young child’s passion, or that young children should even settle on a single passion, as a parent myself, I know that I have been guilty of wondering the same thing about my own children as they grew up.
I have written in the past about my daughter Abrielle and her discovery of dance and the road that the discovery placed her on. My other children have pursued activities ranging from soccer, volleyball, basketball karate and gymnastics to art, ceramics, theater, piano, violin and oboe. And because it is impossible to do it all, I sometimes wonder if I missed out on introducing something that might have benefited them greatly or might have made a critical difference in what they love.
And then I remind myself to relax and enjoy my kids and the wonderfully quirky, slightly flawed, amazingly complex people that they are. And to remember that in time they will figure it out for themselves, or they won’t, but that it is their passion to pursue, not mine.
So here is what I hope all parents learn about developing a passion in their child:
Passion is not love at first sight necessarily. It takes time to develop true passion. Don’t mistake enthusiasm as passion. Enthusiasm to passion is like lust is to love. Enthusiasm gives your child the energy to explore an area of interest, but it is passion that kindles the fire and keeps you going when things get hard. Enthusiasm is like the fun loving friend that shows up to celebrate at your party; passion is the best friend that stays to help clean up. Allow for time and space for your passions to develop.
Passion is not a hunt. It develops naturally, sometimes slowly.
It is not your job to find your child’s passion; it is your child’s job. You need to support and facilitate experiences, but in the end it is up to you child to find what puts her into flow, that psychological state that makes us unable to believe how much time has passed while engaged in an activity.
Therefore, allow your child’s passion to be her own. Well meaning parents can have a tendency to get over involved in their children’s activity or they over commit their child too soon because their child enjoys what they are doing. More is not necessarily better. Follow your child’s lead on how frequently she wants to participate and to what degree.
While you cannot manufacture your child’s passion, you can kill it by criticism or indifference. Be appropriately supportive while still letting your child take the lead. Be proud of her efforts, not just her accomplishments. Support her dreams without making them your own.
Passion and talent are not synonymous. While typically we like things that we are very good at, the correlation is not a perfect one. For instance, I was (and am) passionate about gymnastics, but was a much more talented swimmer and diver than I ever was gymnast. Likewise, I have coached several kids who were unbelievably talented gymnasts who just didn’t like the sport all that much.
Don’t mistake frustration for lack of passion. In fact, frustration is often a sign of passion—you love it even when you hate it.
Passion does not need to be discovered by a magic age. If your child is 7 or even 17 and has not developed a singular passion, relax. I certainly did not know that my passion to be an entrepreneur and a writer existed until I was into my thirties.
However, passion is often rooted in things we were interested in childhood. If we look closely, patterns will emerge. For instance, looking back at my own childhood, the roots of my passion for business and writing were developing—my interest in analyzing people’s behavior, my love of reading, my ability to sell more candy than anyone else in school fundraisers, my deep fascination with gymnastics and my odd obsession of counting and recounting the money in my piggybank and keeping a note book with savings goals—all make perfect sense now.
Passion likely will change or at least morph into different iterations of itself. Katie, our distracted toddler, did stay in gymnastics for several years, competing and doing quite well, until she developed some fear issues that led her to conclude gymnastics was not the sport for her. As it turned out, Katie was also a very talented soccer player and went on to pursue that passion when her passion for gymnastics diminished.
Passion often never totally goes away. Often we find ourselves returning to it. In fact, a few weeks back, I ran into Katie, now a teenager, who was attending a local college gymnastics meet. We hugged and chatted for a bit and she filled me in on what is going on in her soccer world. As we were about to part ways, I invited her to come by the gym if she would like to just say hi and bounce around a bit. She smiled and said she would love to because she misses it so much.
Our children are gifts we get to continually unwrap. They are not robots that we need to build to perform at an optimal level. They are not replicas of us. Or their other parent. They are autonomous little people who we are responsible to guide, teach and support as they make their way through life. Give them love, space and opportunities and their passions will emerge in their own sweet time.