How I’m Helping My Son Find His ‘Thing’

Both of my kids play soccer. They both like soccer and are happy to play the sport — but, my 8-year-old son, especially, wouldn’t choose to play a team sport if I didn’t require his participation. (I believe that team sports and activities help children learn how to work within the confines of a group, as well as develop their own interests and skills.) Truth be told, my kiddo doesn’t really have a thing that he excels in or is driven to do no matter what. Friends of his play on club soccer teams and treat the sport like a religion. My son’s just happy to be on a team with his buddies, but ultimately isn’t that interested in the game. Other friends of his play instruments and love to practice on their own. Not mine. He’s just not that into it. He likes school, but outside of school he doesn’t really have an interest in participating in organized activities.

When I was a kid, kids weren’t expected to have a thing so early on in life. I took piano lessons because that was important to my parents, but I didn’t live and breathe piano. I never really played sports and didn’t have that many hobbies that translated into belonging to clubs or taking extra classes. And truthfully, I regret it. I wish I had had a thing as a kid that might have become a thing as an adult. I think it’s helpful for kids to have special skills. There’s a value in exposing our children to different and new things. And let’s face it: There’s a practical nature when it’s time to apply to college or later in life when having special skills may come in handy. So, I’m doing these things to help him find his thing.

1. Encourage him to try new things. While I don’t want to drive myself crazy by becoming a veritable extra-curricular taxi driver, I do want my son to be exposed to new things. So we’re trying one class, sport, or special interest at a time until we find something he wants to pursue. My son isn’t that interested in sports, but he loves technology, comic books, and storytelling. So he’s trying a comic book making class this fall. We’ll see what happens!

2. Insist that he fulfill his commitments. Sometimes it takes a while to like a sport or special interest. So even if my kid hates every day of his three-month piano class, he’s going to finish. Not only do I want him to understand the value of keeping a commitment, but he may find by the end that he likes something more than he thought he would.

3. Give what he commits to a chance by practicing. I know firsthand that sometimes if you don’t like a sport or instrument, it’s because you feel like you’re not excelling. And while some kids are naturals, others can become good at something with practice. That means Mom and Dad have to put on their sneakers and go kick a soccer ball around, or schedule time to practice the piano. It’s a family commitment, but totally worth it.

4. But, he doesn’t have to commit to something more than once. If he tried something like a sport or musical instrument and found it wasn’t his thing, he doesn’t have to sign up again. Life’s too short, even for kids.

5. Let him follow his dreams, instead of expecting him to follow ours. No matter what, it’s hard not to want your kid to be the one who scores the goals or gets the solo in the school musical. But for most kids, that’s not going to happen. So my husband I both try to reign in our own expectations and let our son be who he is.

Although we want him to find his thing, we’re not going to panic if he doesn’t. Some kids never find that thing that they love to do endlessly. I never did. I turned out just fine. So while I hope my son finds some sport or interest at which he is exceptional what really matters is that he is an exceptional person, even if he never learns to play the piano.

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