When adults come to me and say, “My kid isn’t interested in anything” in the hopes that I can stoke that child’s motivation, I empathize with the struggle of parents to engage their child... but I also cringe a little inside. Because I know that kid’s got something they’re interested in.
As young children, our curiosity is fresh and fertile. All of our senses are tuned to observing and understanding the world around us. The need to learn is innate and uncomplicated. We are courageous in our curiosity.
In fact, we start out interested in nearly everything. And with an intrinsic effortless courage to explore the world around us.
Then, usually, something shifts. Perhaps a child’s evolving interests aren’t noticed or celebrated. They are told to stop talking so much, stop asking so many questions. Maybe they’re even told to stop asking “Why?” all the dang time.
And that silencing doesn’t go unnoticed by the child. It’s inevitable that they get how uninteresting their ideas and questions are to the adults around them. They begin to perceive that their interests don’t count.
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about intrinsic everyday courage. Specifically, I’ve been thinking about the everyday courage of children and how that courage naturally intersects with their drive to learn. It takes bravery to ask, “Why?” and to ask for help--bravery that is sadly lacking in many adults, despite their best efforts to cultivate it in their children. Where did that courage in curiosity go? What made it leave in the first place?
As a culture, we value bravery in theory, yet we undermine children’s bravery everyday. And those children grow up to become less courageous and less curious adults. Of course, we don’t mean to! We’re repeating a pattern that we once fell victim to ourselves, a pattern of diminishing children’s interests by deeming them unworthy, superficial, and shallow.
LEGOs, dolls, Minecraft, dress-up, tree climbing, fort building, and the never ending streams of “why?” and “how?” are only a few of the many ways that children demonstrate curiosity. They also happen to be some of the least respected aspects of childhood. They are dismissed as annoying or “wastes of time” and not educational. We rip children away from these beautiful expressions of curiosity in favor of what we deem more serious matters like math and reading.
I love math and reading, but not at the expense of curiosity and courage. If we’re going to grow as a human race we need it all.
When your thoughts, feelings, and interests are not considered worthy of respect, how do you feel? What do you do? I know what I do, and I go underground. I stop trusting that the people in my life care about what is making me happy. I stop trying to connect with others around my interests, effectively cutting myself off from those that would encourage me otherwise… as long as they felt my pursuits were worthy according to their metrics.
“My kid isn’t interested in anything” then becomes a question, “How do I help my kid feel safe enough to be courageous in their curiosity?”
Below is a list of the ways you can help,
Watch them. How do they like to spend their free time? What are their favorite shows or cartoons? Observe what they get excited about. This is your first step to helping your child develop their interests.
Talk to them, and take them seriously. Ask them questions about themselves, like, “I noticed you seem to be enjoying yourself quite a bit. I was having fun too. What did you like about…?”
Offer your child impactful experiences. Examples include trips to museums or historical attractions, based on your previous discussions and conversations. Talk about what you liked or didn’t like after your visit.
Demonstrate your curiosity. Through word and action, let them know that you too are interested in the world around you and their interests.
Curiosity takes courage. When we honor a child’s interests we help them feel safe enough to go take risks. As a result they open themselves up to new experiences.
I’d love to know what your child is interested in! How are you supporting your child’s interests? What would you add to my list?
Share your own ideas and experiences in the comments section below.
For nearly ten years, Jade Rivera has made educating marginalized, neurodivergent children her mission. She draws on her compassion as well as her personal and professional experience to help children understand who they are and how they learn. Then she translates that to the parents and professionals that care for them. She wears many hats as an educator, coach, and author. She is a proud GHF Ambassador, and author of Micro-Schools: Creating Personalized Learning on a Budget. You can learn more about her and her work at www.jadeannrivera.com.