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To force participation in hobbies, or not to force?

Submitted by on Sunday, 6 September 20098 Comments

For your reading enjoyment, we are pleased to bring you a guest post from Keith Wilcox of almightydad.com.  Keith is a stay at home dad and fellow dad blogger with lots of great wisdom and thoughts to impart, so I hope you give this a read and check out his site as well.

hobbiesTo Force Participation in hobbies, or not to force?

by Keith Wilcox of almightydad.com

Each of my two boys has particular skills that make them good at certain hobbies. My youngest, Alan, is an excellent story teller; his imagination is off the charts, and he’s witty. Someday he could probably be a comedian or an actor if he worked at it.

My older boy, Neil, is a gifted athlete. He walked when he was 7 months old, hit a pitched baseball before he was two, and is currently the youngest person in his pre-team gymnastics class.

These are particular skills that my two kids happen to posses. All parents see abilities in their kids and hope that those abilities will grow into something bigger that will help their kids later in life. It’s parental responsibility to recognize skills and guide children into utilizing them. The question is not whether it’s right to encourage these talents; we’re all supposed to be encouraging. But, what do we do if a talent is obvious yet our kids don’t follow through? Should we force them to use their God given abilities for their own good? Or, should we step back and see what happens and see where they decide to go in life? Who knows? We might have been wrong about their skills all along. They might end up excelling in something completely unexpected. My philosophy on the matter lies somewhere in between being a coach and being a cheerleader. 

(Head Jammer’s note:  just one thing to keep in mind when answering these very valid questions… Roberto Luongo, goalie of the Vancouver Canucks, just signed a contract for $64 million over 12 years… just sayin’).

Flighty and Indecisive

My boy, the gymnast, has in his short life, decided that he wants to be an artist, tennis player, astronaut, writer and a whole bunch of other stuff that I can’t remember. I think all that is great. I also think that once he decides to do something that he needs to see it through, to give it a fair shot. My job is to pay for all the activities he wants to do and to give him exposure. It is also my job to make sure that he sticks with something long enough to at least get my money’s worth out of it.

He chose to do gymnastics; he begged me to do gymnastics. I said, “Fine, you can do gymnastics. But, you’re going to take it for a year and you aren’t going to complain when it gets hard.” Sure enough, he was in the class a week when he decided that doing a handstand was way above his capabilities. He wanted to quit. Well, that’s too bad for him because I wouldn’t let him. It’s been just over a year; and, after roughly two months of complaining, he accepted that I wasn’t letting him out of it. He still can’t do an excellent handstand, but he can do the splits and a hand-spring and some other stuff that I don’t know the names of.

Kids are naturally flighty. They choose some activity and then they quit because they discover it’s difficult. They’ll demand a skate board because they saw Tony Hawk on TV and thought learning would be as easy as the video game. They’ll beg for guitar lessons because they want to be a real life guitar hero. Oops! It takes years to learn? Oh, well, forget it then. Kids will jump into an activity, and when it gets hard, say they don’t enjoy it anymore. What they’re really saying is they think they stink at it and it’s too hard. That’s when it’s our job to prove that it can be done and the reward is worth the effort.

Well Intentioned Jerk

Some parents take being a coach and motivator too far. We’ve all seen it before. There are the football dads, the hockey dads, the spelling bee parents, and the piano moms, who take competition to a whole new level. The stories of abusive parents pushing their kids too hard are difficult to hear. These are parents who can’t accept failure.

It’s bad enough that kids get mistreated, but when all their passion for competition is sucked out of them by over zealous parents, that’s just terrible. My youngest boy might have the talent to act; he does have it. If I put him in an acting class, and then push him too hard, I run the risk of squashing whatever love he might develop for his skill. By trying to make him into Laurence Olivier at age 5 I could actually end up making him into Larry the Cable Guy instead. I

might have all the good intentions in the world when I intend to develop my children’s natural talents, but that doesn’t mean I have the right to get pushy or be a jerk about it.

The Best We can do

The best we can do as parents is to teach our kids the value of hard work, and to teach them that quitting prematurely is no way to go through life. Patience is absolutely necessary. The road to success is built on sweat and hard work. But, it’s all worth it. I’m going to facilitate my kids’ activities, and I’ll push them to pursue what they start and to give their opportunities fair try. Beyond that, I have to let them be. Pushing too hard can lead to a broken kid who doesn’t want to do anything at all.

Too many activities and too much pressure isn’t good for adults, and it’s terrible for kids. My boy might turn out to be a great athlete because I recognized that talent and helped him find what he loves. He will never be great if he thinks his main goal in life is to please me. He’s gotta be proud of himself first.

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  • Dennis Yu says:


    Interesting post– so how do you decide when you’re pushing it versus showing your child that success requires follow through? How do you enforce discipline, yet not be too strict? I admire parents who can strike that balance! Your well-behaved kids are a testament to that.

    I saw the Dad Jam site because it was featured today on your blog: http://www.mekeliki.com/.

    Dennis Yu´s last blog ..Are you a Chief Executive Officer? My ComLuv Profile

  • Angie says:

    Great job Keith!! :)

  • J Cruikshank says:

    We sometimes view our kids as “our” second chance to re-live our lives. It’s wonderful you cultivate who they are in such a balanced way.

  • Great post, it can be a tough balancing act. You want to support your child in what they want to experience, but you also have to keep in mind that these things can cost a lot of money and you can’t keep quitting.

    Sounds like you have a great mindset which will surely rub off on your boys. They just need to find their passion!
    New Dad Chris´s last blog ..What is Tummy Time? My ComLuv Profile

  • I think your measured approach is very smart. Adults do so much chasing around as it is, and we seem to encourage the same in our little ones. Too much, too soon, too stressful. It’s a competitive society BUT we need to balance encouraging kids to follow their (sometimes fleeting) passions, to develop their natural talents, to understand perseverance (age appropriately) AND to just be kids!

    Life is crazed enough. I gave a limit to each of my boys of ONE after school activity each, only, until they proved the ability or interest to pursue. It was, among other things, an act of (single parenting) survival. It also helped them make choices and focus. By middle school that starts to change, and high school is a whole other thing. But GO KEITH! Love your approach!
    BigLittleWolf´s last blog ..When pigs fly… My ComLuv Profile

  • In childhood life, they can’t actually determine what they want and what they want do. Since, they are still in the curiosity stage which is knowing their self ability.

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