How to Help Your Kids Find their Passion

As the mom to a very feisty and fun four year old, today’s post by homeschooling guru Jamie McMillin is of special interest, but even if you don’t have children there are principles here for all of us to heed.

Passions run deep and always back to our child hood there are clues that we should follow. If you are guiding yourself or your own children this is must read wisdom and I am thrilled to have Jamie here to share it.

 

Jamie's daughter Emma has lots of interests: art, gymnastics, health, animals, fashion . . .

What do you want to be when you grow up?

We’ve all been asked this question before, and some of us still don’t know the answer. Our kids are trying to answer this question too.

We could think practically about our skills and experience, industry projections and employment possibilities. That would be smart, right? And if we are desperate for a job right NOW, that’s probably the best way to go. But that’s not the end of it; we can’t just stop there.

Somewhere inside each of us is a self that we have forgotten, a spontaneous self that followed inclinations and ignored practical limitations. For children, anything is possible, and most adults don’t have the heart to tell them otherwise. If a four-year-old says that he is going to be Batman someday, everyone just nods and smiles indulgently. But if a ten-year-old were to say the same thing, his friends and family might just laugh at him.

It’s hard to cherish a dream when everyone around you is determined to be sensible. It’s also hard to be yourself when everyone around you is determined to make you more like them. People mean well, they really do. Parents in particular want us to be successful, because they worry, so they might steer us early into “appropriate” careers. They may even push us into the career or experiences they always wanted to have, or a prestigious career that reflects well on their parenting.

However, hindsight tells us something that most people don’t know or refuse to believe. The best way to contribute to this world and be happy is to do the things we are most passionate about.

John Muir’s father wanted him to work on the family farm, and his employers wanted his amazing talent in the machine shop, but his passion was the wilderness. There was no sensible way to make a living in the wilderness, but he did it anyway, and ultimately changed the world by championing national parks such as Yosemite.

Alexander Graham Bell’s father wanted him to study classical subjects such as Latin and Greek, but Alexander was obsessed with science, particularly the science of sound. Even as a child, he would sit in a field trying to hear the sound of wheat growing. As a teenager he attended lectures on elocution and was fascinated with the way voice is produced. He didn’t know that he would someday invent the telephone, but he followed his fascination until it got him there.

There are a LOT of stories like this. Do you want proof? Just pick your favorite role model, someone who has made a difference in this world, and read their biography. You will find that, against all odds, that person was able to follow an itch or an urge through the years until they finally made their creative breakthrough. They did not necessarily know what they were going to do ahead of time, and perhaps people thought they were nuts, but with passion and perseverance they ultimately did something no one else had ever done before.
Are you willing to trust this process? What if we’re talking about YOUR kid? What is your child’s passion?

It’s too early to tell what drives young children, because they will be curious about a lot of things. But you may find it interesting to keep a journal and take pictures of their everyday play. Record their curiosity. Take them places, read them books, and give them lots of time and space. It’s natural for kids to flit from one thing to the next. One month it’s dinosaurs, the next month it may be robots. That’s all good.

The hard part is when children start attending school. They will feel enormous pressure to fit in, and often forget their true selves. Continuous social feedback and the natural urge to please others can overwhelm a child’s emerging self-awareness.

This is one of the reasons I decided to homeschool my three kids. It’s ironic that so many parents, skeptical of homeschooling, will say “But what about socialization?” Homeschoolers call this the “S” question, and here is the answer we give: “Socialization is the reason we homeschool.” Our kids still have friends and meet with lots of different people, but not for seven hours a day, five days a week. Their society is not entirely peer-based or driven to conformity, so there is still plenty of room to be themselves.

But if homeschooling isn’t an option, you can still be an advocate for robust individualism. Try to carve as much free time and space into your childrens’ schedule as possible. Encourage reading or read aloud together, because the heroes and heroines of stories rarely do as they are told. Have conversations, and really listen to your kids, because hardly anyone else will. They don’t need you to tell them what to do, but if you really pay attention to what they say, they will feel it, and your attention will trickle down inside them like warm steel.

Your kids need to know they are worthy and loveable, just as they are. That confidence will give them the courage to follow their own interests, even when everyone else thinks they are weird.

As kids get older and their interests become more defined, help them find resources and mentors to feed their passions. What are they curious about?  Don’t worry if they switch from one thing to another, because they are still in the exploring stage. But you might see certain trends start to emerge. Again, it may be helpful to take pictures of your teenagers doing things they love, even if it’s playing video games. Encourage them to take pictures too. Give them a journal. Take them places, find them books, and give them lots of time and space.

What we all need to do when we grow up is shut out the noise around us and remember what we really want to know. We may not know yet what to do, but our fascinations will lead us in the right direction, and our passion will change the world.

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Jamie McMillin is the author of Legendary Learning: The Famous Homeschoolers’ Guide to Self-Directed Excellence. You can read her blog at http://www.legendarylearningnow.com

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