“Would’ve, Should’ve, Could’ve.”
If I want one thing for my child, I think it is that she grows up and looks back at her life with no regrets. We all know the parents that say “if only I had, done ‘so and so’ when I was younger, how different my life would be.” There are two problems with parents like that.
First, they tend to try to recapture their youth or live vicariously through their own kids. So they insist on giving them the piano lessons they wanted as a kid, but their parents couldn’t afford or sign them up for little league even if their son or daughter hates baseball. Second, and more importantly, they could be blinded to their child’s own passions.
As parents, we are responsible for recognizing the things our kids are passionate about. We need to embrace those and encourage them if we want to see our kids grow up to be happy healthy and well-adjusted adults. “Everyone has gifts! It is important for a parent to identify and nurture the gifts within each child to discover their passion,” so says Susan Rakes, Assistant Director of The Art and Culture Center of Hollywood.
“These gifts are what make a child unique and special. It is also important for parents to recognize that a child can have multiple passions or that sometimes passions change over time. As parents, it is our job to fully support what a child shows an interest in and wishes to explore.”
As you might imagine, passion is closely related to happiness. Children, and adults who have been allowed to pursue their passion just lead happier lives, even if they do so at great personal sacrifice. According to psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, author of the best-selling book, Flow, there is “a direct link between the pursuit of a passionate interest and personal happiness.” He studied adult artists who were determined to pursue their art, despite tough personal circumstances of financial difficulties.
He found that each one experienced a total absorption in the activity of painting, or sculpting, or whatever it was they were doing. He called this single-mindedness, “flow,” and he equates it with happiness. But what is truly interesting about Mihaly’s research, is that he says that his “flow” — that intense passion– is the same thing any child shows when they are “learning to walk, talk, and make sense of the world through rich imaginative play.” So, in other words, children are naturally passionate about everything they do, and we, as parents, need to help them never to lose that.
Turning It On
If your child has on obvious passion, you can see the value in having him or her pursue it. But what if they seem to not have any passion? “The best way for a parent to realize a child’s passion is to observe and listen,” says Rakes. “Parents should pay attention to experiences that excite their child, subjects that make them exceptionally inquisitive, and things they request to do multiple times. Encourage enthusiasm! Ask questions such as, ‘what about doing that makes you happy?’ Or ‘What else would you like to find out about this?’ These questions can help a parent hone in on what it is specifically about the experience the child especially enjoys and why.”
How many times have you heard your kid say, “I’m bored,” despite being surrounded by a roomful of games, books and toys? It may not be boredom so much as his or her recognition that they are lacking passion. That spark that was in them as a toddler needs to be reignited. “Some children are interested in multiple things and find it difficult to identify one thing they are truly passionate about,” says Rakes. “In this situation, encourage the child to participate in a variety of experiences until they find the one or two things that make them truly happy.”
And just because, as is often the case, they turn to TV or video games to fill the void, don’t panic. There are ways to make that positive as well. Rakes says, “If a child does not get excited about multiple experiences being offered and only wants to spend a large amount of time playing video games or watching television, encourage that interest by diving deeper into the experience. Visit a television studio to get a behind the scenes tour of how a show is made, or explore video game animation or computer programming necessary to design a game. The further exploration of this interest might just discover a hidden passion!”
For better or worse, your child takes after you. A child who lacks passion may have parents who lack or have given up on their own passions. It is never too late to reignite your own spark, to find your own flow. If you reconnect with your passion, you will encourage passion in your kids, and maybe even find something you can be passionate about together!