Should You Push Your Kids to Try New Activities?

Should you force your kids to play sports or learn the piano? I’m definitely guilty of signing my son up for some activities he’d rather not pursue. Like most moms, I don’t want him to miss out on anything. And then there’s the pressure to keep up with the other families who are busy priming their children for success.

So we signed up for soccer because I love that it’s a sport he could play through adulthood, and I think playing a team sport has so many benefits. And I made him try a Spanish-immersion school, with the thinking that being bilingual could really help him later in life.

Are those two things I wish I had learned as a kid? Absolutely. Do they align my child’s interests and talents? Not in the slightest! My little guy is a thinker: he’s analytical, completely left-brained, and not much an athlete. Both soccer and Spanish were massive, tear-filled failures.

So what does he like? Building with Legos. Constructing and fixing things. Figuring out how stuff works. All kinds of science and math. Basically things I’m not interested in, and some I find truly baffling (that would be anything mechanical).

I can accept that his interests and talents are very different than mine. Still, I would like him to play a team sport. How hard do you push kids into things they, for now at least, just aren’t interested in?

Should I require he do a sport, like some friends I know? Do I insist he play a musical instrument, with the hope that he’ll learn to love and appreciate having that skill? It’s something I struggle with, and I have mom friends who are in similar boats. Do we rock them—and our lives—to drive crabby kids to activities they don’t want to do, but that we believe will beneficial?

Research says no. A study published in Frontiers in Psychology says kids who are allowed more unstructured time to play are better able to set and meet goals than kids who are forever corralled into structured activities. Basically, our over-scheduling, hyper, success-driven parenting could actually be backfiring when it comes to helping our children be motivated, successful adults.

So for now at least, I’m not pushing anything. He’s only 6 after all. There’s plenty of time for him to take up new activities. And it’s quite possible his life will be comprised of components I would never have picked out for him. He’s already found them on his own, and now it’s my job to support and encourage them and whatever other positive interests he picks up along the way.

That means our schedule this summer includes Lego camp, science camp, woodworking classes, and zoo camp, plus plenty of unscheduled time. He might not ever go to sports practice, but someday, he’s going to kill it in the world of engineering or science. Even though I probably won’t understand the work he does, I’ll still be so proud of him.

Has your little one developed any special interests or hobbies? Are you in support of letting kids find their own interests?