Does Your Kid Have a “Thing?”

A few years ago one of my children was celebrating a birthday. He had $50 to spend (a gift from a great grandparent), and he couldn’t figure out a way to spend more than $6 of it.

As he lapped the store, he would pick something up and carry it around for a while and then decide it wasn’t quite right and put it back. He asked me if I thought his G.G. (great-grandma) would be sad if he didn’t spend the money.

“Of course not, Sam,” I replied. “You can save it until you find something you really like. I think G.G. would be proud of you for making wise choices with your money.”

When we left the store, he was very sad, and when I asked what was wrong, he said, “I don’t have a ‘thing.’ Seth likes science, and Skyler likes horses, but I don’t have a special ‘thing’ that I like.”

After that day, we spent a lot of time and thought helping Sam find his “thing,” and he has! Sam loves to grow things. We call him Farmer Sam, and he’s even gearing up right now to invest his leftover birthday money in a worm farm (by the way, he’s still the kid who won’t spend money flippantly — his birthday was four months ago, and he still has quite a bit of money left over).

One of Sam's backyard growing projects

One of Sam’s backyard growing projects

Farmer Sam Canning Tomatoes

Farmer Sam Canning Tomatoes

Jody and I are consistently amazed at how many people we talk to who don’t know what their kids are passionate about (other than video games and social media, that is). We’re not necessarily surprised that they haven’t discovered it. We’re more surprised that so often people say that it never really occurred to the them to figure that out.

But just as my little Sam was so sad that he didn’t have a thing, other young souls are feeling the emptiness that grows inside when passion is missing.

Laziness is Not a Personality Trait

As we dig deeper with parents, encouraging them to help their kids find passion, we often hear many of them say, “My kid is just not motivated.” Or worse, “My kid is lazy.”

Lazy is not a personality trait; it’s a sign of a spirit crying out for purpose.

Understanding our child’s bent, knowing what sets their hearts on fire, gives kids energy and focus, and it gives us a kind of parenting compass: we can plan family activities and birthday parties and gifts and bedroom decor all around the things that our kids love most.

It’s Okay to Change Course

Often you will find that if you allow a child every opportunity to fully explore an interest (as time and money permit), they will often come to the end of it. And that’s okay.

When Skyler was younger, she was passionate about animals, especially horses. She read everything she could get her hands on about animals. When she had TV time, she watched Animal Planet. We got subscriptions to animal magazines, and she read animal fiction books.

She had many pets (snake, lizard, tree frog, bunny, bird, cat, dog, guinea pig). She loved to study an animal’s habitat and try to re-create it at home, she even got all the cats to enjoy a fountain that was perfect for them. We thought for a while, she might become a zoologist one day.

By about age nine, her focus was on horses. She read Equus magazine, worked hard every year selling Girl Scout cookies to pay for horse camp at the Girl Scout Campground, took horseback riding lessons (when we could afford it) and even studied a horse anatomy book in her spare time.

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But by the time she was twelve, she had pretty much come to the end of it. She’s 15 now, and although she still loves horses and hopes to one own a horse, she came to realize that her true passion (something she’d also been cultivating for a while even while she studied horses) was music and art.

She’s has an amazing voice and sings at the Sarasota Opera House. She studies music theory and has learned to play a number of different instruments. She also draws and paints and runs her own henna tattoo business.

In costume for her role in the opera Little Nemo in Slumberland

In costume for her role in the opera Little Nemo in Slumberland

Henna Art by Skyler

Henna Art by Skyler

As they grow and evolve, it’s okay to let go of old interests and develop new ones. Most people go through it, but isn’t it better to dive deeply into something at 10 or 12 and come to the end of it than it is to dive deeply into something at 20 or 25 and come to the end of it (especially after spending 10s of thousands of dollars on schooling for it)? We actually hear that story quite often — the one where people went to school to become a teacher (or something else), spent years studying and then figured out during student teaching that she doesn’t like it.

Sure, some people don’t find their passion and purpose until they’re in their 30s or 40s, but it’s usually because they were not guided to deeply explore interests when they were young.  We can absolutely shorten the learning curve for our kids. If we make it a focus, we can (and should) help our kids figure out what makes their hearts soar.

This Saturday on Parenting on Purpose radio show, we are going to talk about how finding our kid’s passion is a critical part of helping them prepare for college and career. We’ll also tell you what to do with that information, once you have it. So be sure to tune in live at 10:00AM on Saturday, July 19th.

Local folks can listen on 1220AM, 106.9FM or 98.9FM. And out-of-towners can listen live streaming on the WSRQ website. You can also get instructions there on how to download a mobile app to listen on the go.

Jenni Stahlmann

Jenni Stahlmann is the mom of seven kids (ages 1 to 20) including one on the autism spectrum. She and her husband Matthew homeschool the whole brood. Jenni has been a journalist for more than 20 years, having covered government, business and family issues for a wide range of magazines and newspapers. Currently, she and Jody co-host a weekly syndicated radio show, write a weekly newspaper column and freelance articles and speak at churches, political groups and homeschool conventions about parenting on purpose.

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Jenni Stahlmann is the mom of seven kids (ages 1 to 20) including one on the autism spectrum. She and her husband Matthew homeschool the whole brood. Jenni has been a journalist for more than 20 years, having covered government, business and family issues for a wide range of magazines and newspapers. Currently, she and Jody co-host a weekly syndicated radio show, write a weekly newspaper column and freelance articles and speak at churches, political groups and homeschool conventions about parenting on purpose.

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6 thoughts on “Does Your Kid Have a “Thing?”

  1. Finding one’s passion is super important and something that I wish would be addressed in school also. Some have many interests and some can’t find one. It is the difference of having a successful life or not since you can’t get what you want if you don’t know what you want. I’m so happy you have decided to focus on this. My last kids book called’ No Wishy washy wishes’ deals with this idea of creating our lives by design. When we decide we want something and chose to go after it, we empower ourselves.

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