Mini Passion Project

A dugout is occupied by six children who are in elementary school, and they're dressed in baseball t...
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How To Help Your Kid Find Their “Thing”

Because you want something to give them that spark inside.

Princesses, LEGO, Paw Patrol — your child’s “hobbies” are pretty easy to figure out when they’re little. For a few months they’re super into dinosaurs and you film a million videos of them correctly identifying the names of creatures even John Hammond didn’t know. You wonder if they’ll be a paleontologist, you buy them dinosaur sheets, their bookshelves are filled with prehistoric stories.

They get really into digging outside and finding rocks, so you take them to the natural history museum. They spend weeks obsessed with craft kits and painting, so you go buy them a bulletin board to display their art. They get a toy piano for Christmas, so you start calling them Liberace and researching music lessons. Children as young as 4 or 5 can start developing interests, and Dr. Becca Wallace, a clinical pediatric psychologist at Children’s Hospital of New Orleans, tells Romper that these interests are typically formed by whatever they’re exposed to at home.

But once your kid becomes an official “big” kid — heading into full-on tween status — a lot of parents find themselves curious about what their kid’s “thing” is going to be. Maybe they’re still as into sea animals as they were at 5, or maybe they’ve completely abandoned any interest they had in ancient Egypt and ballet. “These interests sometimes grow and persist, and other times appear in phases and change,” Wallace says. Maybe you’re kind of at a loss as to what they’re into — they dabble a bit in this or that with no major enthusiasm — and want them to find some hobby or activity that sparks something inside. Not because you’re thinking of college applications or because you’re hoping they’ll become a TikTok star with their makeup routines, but because passion is important. Loving something is important. Having a hobby to pour your heart into is good. It’s healthy.

Don’t assume your child’s interests aren’t good enough because they’re different than what you imagined for them.

But before you start signing your kid up for music lessons and craft fairs that you think they’d enjoy, it’s important to remember that their interests are their interests. Wallace makes it very clear that there are no parameters to define something specifically as a hobby or interest. “Hobbies and interests become our outlets or what we enjoy doing that makes us feel like us,” she says. “They come in handy not only when we want to do something fun, but also when we are bored, sad, stressed, overwhelmed — they often serve as a reset or pause on these experiences.” She says that any hobby or interest is also a way to express an identity and influence self-concept and self-confidence. “Hobbies and interests are the things we independently choose to do for ourselves.”

Which means, hey — your kid may already have found their thing, even if you wish it was something else. And maybe that thing will change in a year or two, or maybe their current love of skincare will turn into a career as am esthetician. There’s no right or wrong answer here. “Children might have hobbies or interests that adults do not register as hobbies or interests, and some individuals never have just one thing, but several things that they enjoy,” Wallace says. She also points out that if your child is interested in a certain subject like sports or arts and crafts with no real specifics, just a general like for it, that counts, too.

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Give your child some ideas to pursue.

“Hobbies and interests are formed through exposure,” she says. “Maybe a person has not been exposed to something they find interesting yet. People develop and change hobbies and interests as they get older, get exposure to more, and are capable of more things. It’s important to keep an open mind and support your child in exploring interests and continuing to expose them to possibilities.” Take them to the library, watch documentaries, talk about what you enjoyed doing on a Saturday afternoon as a kid — give them some ideas if they aren’t sure where to start. If you find your 12-year-old muttering, “I’m bored” on a Wednesday night, think about what you did at that age. Were you at basketball practice? Making friendship bracelets? Reading about the Cold War? The only way your child can know about new hobbies and interests is by being exposed to them — whether at home or through media they consume or friends — so that’s step one in helping your kind find their thing.

But don’t overwhelm them (or yourself) with commitments or pressure.

Once they do express an interest in something, where do you start? Do you jump straight into signing them up for a recreational team when they mention baseball? Do you push them to start practicing clarinet every night? Do you buy them all the books you can find on the Roman Empire because of their sudden interest in Julius Caesar?

It’s all about balance, Wallace says. You want your child to feel like they can explore activities beyond their hobby or interest, too. Wallace suggests that having “backup” hobbies is just as important, so if your kiddo decides to take a gymnastics class, don’t assume you have to jump fully in like an Olympics parent and abandon their interest in karate, too. Take things slow, let them set the pace — and don’t try to push some activity on them that they have zero interest in just because you think drum lessons would be a better use of their time than playing Dungeons & Dragons.

Wallace does acknowledge that cost is a definite factor to consider. Signing up for classes or teams or buying supplies adds up quickly, so it’s sometimes helpful to start with a trial period or a time frame that your child can stick with an activity before they’re allowed to quit or try something new. “This can range from three weeks to one season,” she says, and you and your child can decide on one ahead of time. So if you sign your child up for the pottery classes they’re dying to take, make sure they know ahead of time your expectations for how long they need to give it a go. You can base those on your own considerations of how much the activity will cost, what the time commitment (commuting to and from practice or rehearsal) looks like for them and you, and how long something like this usually lasts (like a seasonal sport or a yearly class).

If your child can’t really decide, should you just choose a hobby or sport for them to do?

There are so many hobbies I’d love for my own girls to do. I was a big theater kid, and it’s a dream of mine to share that magic with my children. My oldest daughter has done several years of theater summer camp and loves it, but she’s shown little interest in auditioning for a play or trying out new theater things beyond a week of camp. This is one of those examples where I think a little push — me asking her just to audition and see what happens — could work. But if I had a child who had zero interest in being on stage and I insisted on it? That’s just bad news all around, Wallace says.

“Continuing to force a child to do an activity they do not want to do, even if they are good at it, is only going to cause resentment and negative outcomes,” she says. If you think a new hobby aligns with your child’s interests, it’s fine to suggest a pressure-free scenario for them to try it. But honestly, sometimes you have to let go of your own hopes and dreams and let your kid just be themselves. Whether your kid is good at something or not doesn’t matter if they dislike doing it.

It’s also important help them understand that their interest doesn’t have to be their identity. “It’s important to not tie a child’s full identity and purpose to one activity, no matter how good they are at it. It’s important to teach children moderation and balance. It’s also important to teach them that winning and perfection are not everything,” she says. “Celebrate the losses and the errors.” If your child has found their “thing,” but find themself stressing over being good at it or winning or turning it into something beyond a Saturday afternoon activity, take a breather. Wallace advises emphasizing to your child that everyone has off days, and that they have so many wonderful traits that go beyond this particular activity. If they want to quit, that’s OK, but remind them that going through something that feels tough can be beneficial in the long run. But if it continues to be a source of misery no matter how hard they try and all of the fun has been delepted? “It’s OK to walk away and try something new,” Wallace says.

Think of your own “thing.” What do you love doing? How do you approach this hobby? If you’re into sewing, are you constantly thinking of all the ways you should be improving your sewing, or are you just enjoying a few hours with your machine each month? If you’re really into cooking, that doesn’t mean every single day has to be filled with trying new recipes or researching how to go back to culinary school. Your child’s “thing” — their passion, their enjoyment, their hobby — doesn’t have to be anything else. It doesn’t have to go bigger or smaller, it doesn’t have to be part of their identity or feel like a plant they have to tend to in a greenhouse lest it wither up and die — it just has to be a thing they do that makes them feel good. That helps them when they’re overwhelmed. That quells the itchy feeling of “I’ve got nothing to do right now” at 10 a.m. on a Sunday.

And that will be enough.