Q.  My wife and I have three children ages 5, 9 and 12. My youngest doesn’t have any special interests or hobbies yet. My middle child is interested in the guitar. The oldest finds bugs fascinating and loves playing lacrosse. I’d like to help them learn more about their interests, but it seems like it will be time consuming and expensive. What benefits do children get from pursuing their interests at a young age? What if we invest time and money only to have a child drop an activity for a totally different one? How can we best support them in a meaningful way?


A.   There are many benefits to children following their interests. Here are just a few of them:

  1. Children spend more time reading about things they’re interested in, thus they become better readers.
  2. Becoming more of an expert in an area of interest builds self-esteem.
  3. Hobbies and interests can provide direction for future study or spare time relaxation in college and in life.
  4. A good hobby can keep a child from being bored.
  5. The areas one engages in during childhood sometimes become one’s line of work in adulthood.
  6. Supporting your children with a hobby can provide a bonding experience between child and parent.

To find out what a children’s interests really are, you need only spend time with them and pay attention to what they want to do. Ask them what they are interested in. Have they talked about a certain sport, or a specific science topic or an activity that they like? As you mentioned, children may change interests, so pay attention to how dedicated they seem to a particular interest, such as doing magic tricks, photography or playing the guitar. You can increase your investment of time and money as your child demonstrates greater interest and commitment. I knew a girl who tried several sports until, as a teenager, she found golf and stuck with it.

You asked how to help your kids pursue activities that appeal to them.

If you find that you can’t support your children’s interests with time and money, my number one rule is simple: Just don’t get in their way.

Let your children seek out ways to engage in what interests them most. They might try extracurricular activities at school or seek out kids with similar interests.

Here are some other ideas for helping your children cultivate their hobbies:

  1. Schedule time for your children to talk about their interests.
  2. Don’t rush a child to choose any specific hobby.
  3. Don’t overschedule activities around an interest.
  4. Be a role model. Share your hobbies with your children, but don’t push them into having the same ones you do.
  5. In so far as you can, give them the tools they need. For example, if a child wants to play an instrument, rent or buy that instrument and find a music teacher. If they are fascinated with birds, provide binoculars and birding books. If they are interested in cars, take them to car shows. Help them find people and clubs with a similar focus. Often you can find a museum, an after-school activity or an online site that will help your child learn more about a particular subject.

Thank you for these important questions. I hope you really enjoy and benefit from helping your kids explore their interests, alongside your own.


Betty Richardson, PhD, RN, CS, LPC, LMFT, is an Austin-based psychotherapist.

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