I always have my eyes open for articles and posts about play and joy for kids. So I naturally read and shared a recent Washington Post article by Lena Aberdeen Derhally entitle "Kids don't know how to play on their own anymore. Here are four ways to change that."
The whole article is well worth a read. The author begins with why parents should care about getting their kids to play more and then gets into her specific suggestions. Here is the first one:
"Encourage your child’s unique strengths: Everyone has something they enjoy and usually we are pretty good at doing the things we enjoy. If your child truly enjoys an activity, encourage him to develop it. If the child loses interest in the activity and doesn’t want to do it anymore, listen to him. Forcing him to do something that is no longer enjoyable can hurt him in the long run and take the joy out of the activity. The purpose of hobbies and activities is enjoyment."
When I first read this paragraph, I have to confess that I thought it was rather obvious. I've been reading a lot of parenting books and books about the importance of play, and this of course made sense to me. But then I thought about the first sentence of that paragraph again: Everyone has something they enjoy and usually we are pretty good at doing the things we enjoy. This has always been my approach in terms of getting kids interested in books and reading - you have to help them to enjoy it, or they won't do it.
But then I realized how much this outlook applies to my daughter's experience with karate lessons, and how very much she's been getting out of them. The other day our family met a couple of my husband's colleagues for lunch. My daughter was seated next to a man she knows fairly well (the father of two daughters himself), and she spent the entire lunchtime telling him all about her experiences and accomplishments with karate.
She was reciting exactly how many and which badges she has received ("teamwork", "respect", etc.) and sharing her belt level. She was talking about when her graduation ceremony would be to the next level, and relating with much pride her experience in breaking a board with her hand. She was just brimming over - so proud and so excited to talk about this passionate interest of hers with an adult who would listen attentively (bless him!).
Of course this enthusiasm shows up at other times, not just at this lunch. She had a ninja-themed birthday party (hence the broken board). She runs around the house in a ninja mask, selects ninja-themed picture books, and was SO excited when for sharing at school she had to do or bring something that started with "K". She was beside herself when I bought her a dress with hidden pink ninjas on it (from Princess Awesome, a new discovery - see the fabric to the left). She used her own money to buy Kung Fu Panda 3. I think you get the idea.
A couple of my friends, as well as my daughter's karate instructor, have commented on how much her confidence has increased since she started doing karate. Her karate studio (Vision Martial Arts in San Jose) is fabulous. They focus not just on karate, but on nurturing teamwork, self-reliance, and other core values. We are grateful to the friends who recommended that we give karate a try.
But I think that my husband and I deserve some credit, too. We listened when she said that she wanted to give karate a try. We supported her sticking with karate vs. swim team this summer, even though most of her friends were doing the latter. We arranged the ninja-themed birthday party. My husband practices with her. I make sure her uniform is clean. In general, we have prioritized the karate, because it's clear that it is working for her. And the dividends from the decision have been significant.
If and when her interests change, we'll respect that, too, of course. And it's not that she doesn't have other interests now. I also understand that karate isn't for everyone, and that parents will have to experiment to find the right thing for each kid at each stage of development. My point is that if your child develops a passionate interest, it's worth going out of your way to let her pursue it. You never know which activities are going to be the ones that make your child sparkle. But it's the sparkle that matters. Find it. Follow it. That's what makes kids shine.