How to nurture your child's interests

John Hoffman reminds us that nurturing your children's enjoyment of the activity is every bit as important as nurturing their skill

When there’s an aspect of life that you really cherish — canoeing, hockey, art, books, nature, environmental causes, yoga, whatever — it’s natural to want to pass it on to your kids. If it’s made your life better, it could do the same for your child. And, of course, you’d just like to be able to share the activity that brings you joy.

For me, it’s music. I play the fiddle and mandolin, and sing. Music is one of the things that makes life worthwhile. So, yeah, I wanted to pass that on to my kids.

The big question is: How do you do that? Do you enrol your child in lessons as soon as possible to imprint the activity in her developing brain and give her a jump start on skills? Or do you just expose your child to the activity, live the passion yourself and hope it becomes part of her life?

Whatever approach you take, your child’s connection to the activity — the inner feeling that makes him love it and want to do it — is at least as (probably more) important as any teaching he gets. At some point, he has to own the activity. He has to love it enough to want to keep doing it — and to find the joy in the process as well as the results.

And we can’t force that on kids. The passion has to come from within. And this is the part that is oh so tricky to nurture. It’s one thing to find a good teacher or expose your child to the right experiences. It’s quite another to make a child love something.

In my case, I never pushed music because I’d seen far too many people get music (or religion, sports or cultural activities) pushed on them, only to turn away because it had never really become theirs.

My kids were certainly exposed to lots of music. I remember leading preschool singsongs at a local resource centre with various of my boys perched on my lap between me and the guitar. I also remember a crazy run-around-the-house chasing game we played to the musical backdrop of a lightning-fast Ricky Skaggs tune called “Country Boy.” Then there was the Little Tikes Tap-a-Tune Piano, which all three kids played. Sometimes I tapped along.

Maybe my sons could have handled music lessons earlier than they got them. I’ll never know. We offered a few times, but let them decide when to start — at ages 10, 12 and seven, respectively. What I do know is that music is now a passion for two of my three boys, something they pursue because they want to, not because someone else wants them to.

And even though neither plays the kind of music I do — one plays jazz and the other plays “grind core” — music has been an important point of connection for us. We talk about it all the time. Watching your kid do something he loves (OK, I admit I’ve only been to one grind show) is inspirational. It makes me want to race home, grab my fiddle and play some more.

I don’t have a foolproof formula for how to get there. But just remember one thing: Nurturing their enjoyment of the activity is every bit as important as nurturing their skill. It’s also the part we often forget about.

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