Cheering your aspiring little Messi while he’s dribbling in a football match or watching your future Akademi Fantasia star on stage are the joys of parenthood.
Nurturing your child’s interests can help your child develop into a well-rounded, healthy adult. Who knows, you may be grooming a future athletic superstar or professor?
There are many skills that a child may develop from different activities. Playing a team sport enhances physical fitness as well as motor, social and leadership skills.
Playing a musical instrument is associated with improved attention and fine motor skills.
Drama improves confidence, language and public speaking.
Research shows that children involved in extra-curricular activities have better time management skills and higher self-esteem. Children will be exposed to a variety of teaching and learning experiences, which will make them able learners.
Opportunity and exposure is important as we may not know where our child’s talent lies. If left to themselves, many children are happy to sit in front of the television or play Minecraft the whole day.
Children are often influenced by parents with strong interests in particular activities. Involving your child in your hobby is one of the most natural ways of introducing an activity.
Active parental participation has been shown to contribute to a child’s success in both academic and extra-curricular activities.
Some children naturally acquire many interests. Others need to experiment with several different activities.
Don’t be discouraged; giving your child a chance to discover his ability may take time. Research has shown that a child’s preference for an activity is one of the strongest predictors of continuing participation.
You may discover your child’s natural interest during a visit to the museum (space, dinosaurs), or during a leisure activity such as painting.
Books are another way of discovering your child’s passion; pay attention to what he reads.
Having a natural skill is an added bonus; your child will be more enthusiastic for something he is competent at.
How can we encourage our children without pressuring them?
It is not unusual for some parents to spend small fortunes enrolling their children in multiple extra-curricular classes.
Not all children are able to manage such heavy schedules, and they may not have the time or opportunity to develop their interests further.
Most children are usually able to cope with two extra-curricular activities, besides school.
Being overly critical and micromanaging does not promote natural motivation and independent learning.
Let your child attempt a task and learn from their mistakes. Offer suggestions rather than say, “This is wrong, do it this way”. This will promote understanding and enthusiasm for the process of learning and problem-solving.
It is natural for a parent to want to reward their child who has done well in something. Recent research, however, suggests that children who are constantly rewarded are more materialistic and become focused on the reward rather than the activity.
Try to emphasise the enjoyment of the activity and the child’s pleasure in doing well. Think quality, not quantity.
Set realistic expectations based on your child’s performance. Failure is something that can happen, and your child may be discouraged and give up entirely on new experiences and reject future attempts at new things.
So, don’t push your child too hard, and always be there for them to catch them if they fall.
Extra-curricular activities do not have to be prohibitively expensive. Cultivating an interest in football may involve kicking the ball with your child in the garden, reading the premier league scores in the newspaper together, or joining the school football club.
As parents, we should be realistic about our goals. Less than 0.01% of children will be the next Lee Chong Wei or Siti Nurhaliza.
With opportunity and exposure, our children may find a talent which eventually will help them with a career.
Ultimately we hope our children will grow into happy, healthy, and productive adults; with interests which may give them a lifetime of pleasure.
Dr Raja Juanita Raja Lope is a consultant developmental and general paediatrician. This article is courtesy of the Malaysian Paediatric Association’s Positive Parenting programme in collaboration with expert partners. This article is supported by an educational grant from Kidzania. For further information, visit www.mypositiveparenting.org.