How to Support your Child’s Interests When They are Different From your Own
Several years ago, when I was pregnant with my first child, I daydreamed about all the things that we would have in common. It was no secret to anyone who knew me that I was excited to be having a daughter. I would raise a strong, confident woman – someone who’d share my interests, skills, and hobbies.
Fast forward 5 years, and there is no doubt that my first-born is indeed my child. She has my exuberance, my petulance, and a love of sucking her thumb that I too had as a young girl. Despite our similarities, she also has interests that are all her own. She loves gymnastics and has a fondness for doing elaborate stunts. She also has a serious obsession with Disney Princesses. When she’s not indulging those interests, she’s grilling me with questions about Star Wars mythology.
Cultivating new interests is part of the wonder of being a child. But it can also lead to heartburn for parents when their child is fascinated by something that the parents have no interest or skill in. In our house, we went through a phase where my daughter came home every night for weeks wanting to sew a dress like her favorite Disney princess. I have no sewing or crafting skills to speak of, and I would go to bed each night in agony. I didn’t want to let her down, but I wondered how I could help her when I was ill equipped to do so?
Here are a few things I learned along the way that helped me navigate these challenging requests.
Tip 1: Follow Her Lead.
I am a problem-solver, but sometimes using this skill can be detrimental to the healthy development of a young child. Our job isn’t to solve problems for our kids, it’s to help our kids learn how to solve problems for themselves. In the case of my daughter and her request to sew a princess dress, I got very deep into researching costume-making before I caught myself and forced myself to stop. I asked Ohana what it was she thought we should do to make a costume. It tuned out that she was doing a costume project at preschool and already had all kinds of ideas for process steps, materials, and tool requirements in her head.
It also turned out that she wanted to do more research herself before beginning actual work on the costume. This led to several days of her looking at photos, videos, pictures, and looking at books that featured princesses so that she could get ideas for the type of costume she wanted to make. This “research” phase turned out to be quite fun for both of us. She also got to look at lots of pictures of pretty princesses, and I got to watch her take the lead in the creative process of gathering and refining ideas for a dress.
Tip 2: Don’t Boil the Ocean.
Once Ohana had a firm idea of the type of costume she wanted to make, I committed to helping her with one part of the dress. This was a bit of a struggle and a negotiation, but I knew that I would never be able to sew an entire costume for her, and I didn’t want to set false expectations. I also hypothesized that she would grow tired of the dress-making process long before I ever would. So, we agreed to make the skirt of the costume and to finish it before making anything else. It would give her the feeling of accomplishing something in a relatively short time-frame. It would also help me feel more confident, because I could focus on one part of the dress rather than worry about learning how to sew the whole thing. As it turned out, Ohana was so enamored with the step of cutting the fabric that she forgot (temporarily) about the rest of the costume. Once she had a skirt to wear, she happily twirled around the house and played with it for days before she started thinking about the rest of the costume.
Tip 3: Outsource What You Can.
I’m not going to lie – I will use and abuse time from friends, teachers, neighbors – anyone in Ohana’s circle who can potentially help her with a project better than I can. Some may think this is lazy, but I think it is efficient. As much as I love spending quality time with my daughter, I don’t see the need to be a subject matter expert in every topic that she wants to explore. In the case of the princess costume, I asked Ohana’s pre-school teacher (who was an amateur seamstress) to help her with parts of the costume during the day. That way, Ohana continued to make progress on the costume, and I got some relief from the burden of having to make the whole thing. If you decide to outsource projects to other people, however, be sure to return the favour. I love to cook and to bake, for example, so I volunteer to do cooking projects at Ohana’s school.
As long as you are spending time with your child, s/he will always remember the time they spent with you, even if they forget what projects you did together.
What lessons have you learned that have helped you to cope with never-ending requests from your little one? What life hacks have helped you get by? Share your ideas with us in the comments section below.
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