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I am trying to encourage my 5 1/2 year old son to try different activities but he often simply rejects them out of hand before trying them. Recently I saw a groupon for ten Taekwondo lessons. He did not participate in the first 3 lessons and said he didn't like it and wanted to stop. I told him he had to do the 10 lessons because I paid for them. After another few lessons he started liking it and now loves going to class and is doing well. So by forcing him to go he found that he actually did like the activity.

I have been less forceful with regard to other activities because I don't want to be an overbearing father. I bought him a soccer ball, basketball, bicycle, scooter, motorcycle, baseball and glove, etc. He says he doesn't want to do them. Maybe he would like them if he tried them a few more times like his Taekwondo. I want to expose him to as many things as I can and want him to find his passion (if he has one) but it seems he just doesn't want to try new things. I see many other boys his age advancing in these activities while he wanders aimlessly. He is a very active boy who runs a lot and is generally happy and I don't want to squash that demeanor.

I too took a long time to 'find myself' so I don't want to be too forceful but at the same time if I give up too early he might not find something he truly enjoys and might excel at.

I realize this is a somewhat open ended question with possibly no 'correct' answers but I would be happy to hear other parent's perspectives.

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6 Answers 6

Try to find out where his interests lie and then give him the opportunities to pursue those interests.

Of course, it might be possible that he could develop a liking to other activities once he tries them enough. For these kind of activities, ask him what is his opinion on the activity. If he is not very sure if he hates it, then tell him to try it for a while and stop if he does not like it. Eg. Dad, golf sucks because its so slow. I prefer faster things. So, suggest takewondo or basketball to him.

Try to find ways to encourage him to try new activities. Eg. Show him cool martial arts movies like the matrix to possibly sow seed of interest in Takewondo, or simply tell him that its good to know for self defence and to defend against bullies. Eg. See if he likes music and would like to be a rockstar. Then encourage him to learn drums, guitar or whatever he likes.

I wish you great success in parenting and in raising a fine child.

PS: Would you try a product simply because a salesman told you so and because his company spent a huge number of dollars on creating & advertising it ? Probably not. You'd like some strong arguments or you'd have to be in the mood to try. To sell your kid an idea, you have to keep this in mind.

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Good point - I have not tried to tell or show him the advantages (although they are always on my mind.) My main reason for the Taekwondo was for self defense since he is a small boy but I didn't want to come out and actually say that to him. My main reason for baseball was hand-eye coordination. Soccer was foot-eye coordination and general fitness. The music was, well, there are many advantages for learning music and musical instruments. I nearly always have a reason for the things I do for him since I am a fairly analytical guy. Thanks for your input. –  Tracy Cramer Jul 20 '14 at 22:49
...Do I have an alter ego named Tracy? –  kleineg Jul 30 '14 at 14:13

I absolutely believe you should force activities on your young child, for the reason you found with the Taekwondo: Without trying it, how can he tell if he likes it?

As adults we can recognize when we don't like something because we've tried it -- or something similar -- before, vs. when we are uncomfortable just because it's something new. If it's the latter, we can force ourselves to do it anyway, hoping we'll enjoy when we've gotten used to it. But a five-year old has no such experience, or the self-control to act on it if he had. It's up to the parents of such a child to lead him safely into exploring the various activities available for kids. You don't want your child to miss opportunities for fun, for self-esteem, for a life-long addiction to healthy exercise just because he has a natural inclination to hang back from new activities.

There are pitfalls, however, and it's great that you're concerned about them. You definitely don't want to push him into something he doesn't want to do, or force him away from his natural interests, but the fact that you're worried about it means you probably won't be one of those overbearing parents, trying to live their dreams through their kids.

So, tell him that nobody knows what they will like until they try it, and you want him to know what things in life will be fun for him, so you're signing him up for one or two more new things. If after the lessons are over he still doesn't like it, he won't have to do it again.

But, consider the following carefully, before you push ahead:

  • Is the activity age appropriate? Soccer at this young age is about having fun. The coaches should be fun-loving and enthusiastic and the kids should be smiling and laughing. At the end of each game, all of the kids should be convinced they were terrific, and the coaches should only have a vague idea (if any) of the score.

  • Does he find it energizing to run around with other kids, or draining? Kids who are energized by playing a team sport can probably do more than one team sport per season. Kids who are drained by it should not play more than one team sport per season, and they may need some alone time or parent time afterwards to recuperate.

  • Does he object to the sport or to learning it from you? Some kids seem to get into an antagonistic relationship with a parent when the parent is trying to show them something. They take direction/constructive criticism much better from an official coach or teacher, and want to hear only praise from their parents. If this is the case, don't force your kid to learn the activity from you, but sign him up for something taught by others.

  • Does he only enjoy things if he is good at them? Some kids can be the worst kid on the team but still have as much fun as the best kid on the team. Others need to see that they can hold their own with those around them, and are truly miserable if most kids are better than they are. Figure out which type yours is and take it into account when you look for things to sign him up for.

  • Can he pick it up later anyway, and be no worse off then if he starts late? Bike riding is something that does not need years of practice; unlike in soccer he won't be hopelessly behind his friends if he doesn't start riding a bike until he is eight or ten. And at some point he will probably want to do this one, anyway, because it will give him some freedom and his peers will be doing it.

  • Is there another path that can lead him into the activity? Baseball, like soccer, requires skill and a lot of practice, but unlike in soccer, kids are generally a mess at it until at least seven or eight, no matter how much they practice. If he doesn't want to play catch with you, and you decide to hold off on signing him up for T-ball this year, you might try watching MLB games with him, rooting for your team. We absorb so much about baseball by osmosis just by growing up in America that we forget that the rules of baseball -- from just what is a strike, and how many you get before you're out -- and what does "being out" mean, anyway? -- to the infield fly rule -- are amazingly complicated. If he's watched some games with you, then if he does start playing later, he'll at least know which direction to run the bases. (Not self-evident to most five year-olds.)

  • Is it a survival skill? Most parents I know insist that their kids take swimming lessons. (I motivated my extremely reluctant daughter by promising her the night before that if she learned to swim I would let her take surfing lessons. She then spent the next two weeks throwing herself into the water -- she had just seen Lilo & Stitch and loved it -- and was the only four-year old to pass out of Level 1 at the end of the first session.)

  • Are you paying attention to the things he's interested in? (I do see that you are, but I'm trying to make my list more generally useful to others.) If you as parent are interested in sports, make yourself think of the other things that are out there (like ukeleles!). They also have dance, music, and art classes for kids in most communities. There may be a Lego club at the library. The point is for your child to be happy, learning and mastering new and rewarding skills.

  • Don't over-schedule. Kids need unstructured down time, to wander aimlessly, to develop an internal life, and to learn how to entertain themselves when nothing is going on.

After 2 - 3 of years of this, he will have tried many different types of things and he -- and you -- will have a better idea of the type of thing he likes. Fast sports or slow sports, team sports or individual. Dance, music, or art. At this point you should let him have complete say as far as what activities to be involved in. (Not counting things your family or culture insists on, for which you give him no choice, like... swimming lessons; Hebrew or Chinese lessons; a musical instrument; at least one sport, for the health benefits.) You can urge him to change his mind, if you feel strongly about something, but he gets to choose.

As far as motivation: I generally tell my daughter the truth: I want her to try things so she knows what she will like. I am against bribery, but I do believe in "celebrating." When my daughter spent what I thought of as one too many skating lessons pushing a chair around, I mentioned that the first time she skated a whole lesson without the chair, the two of us would go out for ice cream to celebrate. Needless to say, we had our celebration -- of her acquiring this amazing skill of skating up and down the ice all by herself!!! -- after the very next lesson.

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+1 for "Does your child object to learning it from you". I taught swim lessons for YEARS, but my son absolutely would NOT let me teach him the basics of swimming. He wanted me to protect him in the water, not make him learn how to kick and move his arms. Now that he has the basics down, he's much more inclined to let me help him with the nuances and more advanced skills, but I still let him lead and when he's clearly done with me I let it go. –  Meg Coates Jul 30 '14 at 23:32

I want to expose him to as many things as I can and want him to find his passion (if he has one)

Have you considered the possibility that his "passion" might not be in sports? Judging from your list of things you "bought him", it seems not.

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I also bought him a Ukelele and a piano to see if he has any musical inclination. He has several types of legos and enjoys those. We have coloring books and reading books. He likes swimming and Taekwondo so he does like 'sports' but I think you are considering the wrong question. I asked if I should force him to participate in an activity (for a period of time) as opposed to let him find his own way. I forced him to take more Taekwondo lessons and he ended up enjoying himself and having fun and I'm wondering if he might like these other activities more if I 'made' him do them. –  Tracy Cramer Jul 20 '14 at 22:35

I think this is an excellent question and your son reminds me a little bit of my own son who is not quite 6 1/2. We started him in Choi Kwong Do (a variation of Taekwondo) when he was about 4 1/2. My son is not an assertive child and he's also fairly introverted. Getting him to try new activities is sometimes a challenge. He'll be starting first grade next week and he's a little anxious about that because it means he won't know everyone in his class (even though he'll know several). For him, the hesitancy to try something new is about the fact that he doesn't know anyone in the class, and he doesn't know what he's doing. I can sympathize with him--I have similar reservations about trying new things. It is something I have had to work on as an adult and it still keeps me from trying some new things even if I think I might enjoy them. Frequently, though, once I actually do try that something new (a class, an organization, etc.) I find

  • I'm no worse at it than anyone else in the room.
  • Most of the people are really nice and friendly.
  • I really do enjoy doing it.

I counted once and discovered that I had tried about 10 different types of lessons (ranging from gymnastics and ballet to violin and piano) and didn't stick with any of them when I was a kid. Because my mom didn't make me (as background, my mom was raised very poor and never got to do anything like that so she considered it a big deal that I was even given the opportunity). Now, as an adult, I wish that my mom had been more assertive and had MADE me practice or had said, "No, you're going to finish this" instead of always giving me an easy out. As a result, I take a different approach with my kids. I'm pushier. There are times when my son doesn't want to stop playing with his Legos and go to his Choi class, but I remind him that he has set his goal to become a black belt and that my job as his mom is to help him achieve that goal. I have a friend of mine who is very different. Her opinion is that if her son really wants to do something, he needs to take the responsibility upon himself to practice. I contend that most 6-year-olds do not have the self-awareness to be able to monitor that kind of thing, but it's all in your child's personality.

Having said that, I have learned a few tricks that make getting my son to try new activities a little easier:

  1. We will sign him up for activities with a friend. For example, this summer was swim lesson summer. He wasn't especially excited about learning how to swim, but it needed to be done. We signed him up with another little boy that he knows from Choi. Having a friend there who was as unskilled in swimming as he was helped him become more confident about attending the first few swim lessons. By the end of the second class, he LOVED it.
  2. We float ideas to him about potential new activities a few weeks in advance. We told him about swim lessons way before school let out just so he could sort of process the idea.
  3. Now that he's 6, we let him have more of a say in what activities he participates in. We had been toying with the idea of adding an activity. We gave him the option of trying fall soccer or Boy Scouts, explaining that he could only choose one because there wasn't time in the week to do both. He has chosen Boy Scouts (which, for him, is the better option). We are intentionally joining a Pack that includes several boys he knows so that he'll be more comfortable (plus, we know the parents which is a bonus for us!).
  4. We are fairly intentional about who we pick for our instructors/teachers. Andrew is pretty sensitive about some things and does not respond well to people who yell or who shame. There are a surprising number of adult instructors who do these things and who probably have no business teaching children.

As mentioned above, there is always the threat of over-doing it and being "that" parent who tries to live vicariously through their child, but it doesn't sound like you're in any danger of doing that. How else is a kid going to know what interests them unless they're given the opportunity to try it?

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I don't know that I would 'force' the activities, but perhaps incentivize them. Kids respond well to incentives, just like adults do. "Try a sport for a season, after each game we'll go out for ice cream." "Do ten Tae Kwon Do classes, you can have that new toy you've been after." Provide an external incentive to encourage the behavior you're interested in, and then perhaps he'll find he likes the activity anyway.

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That sounds terrible. Rather than enjoying the sport for the pure enjoyment of the sport, they will do it purely for the reward. Take away the reward, and they won't want to do it anymore. –  Dave Clarke Jul 20 '14 at 10:15
@DaveClarke Incentives often work to overcome the initiation cost (equivalent of activation energy in a chemical reaction - the initial heat you require to start a fire, for example). Trying new things is hard for some children, and giving them that jump start with an incentive is an effective way to overcome the difficulty. –  Joe Jul 20 '14 at 22:53
@DaveClarke, I don't like to 'bribe' my kids either but I think that offering them an incentive to try something and if taking the incentive away also removes the desire then I know they don't truly want to do it. If, on the other hand, they do continue without an incentive then they do like it, which is exactly my dilemma - trying to help him do something more than zero or once to see if he does enjoy it. –  Tracy Cramer Jul 20 '14 at 22:53

I always ask my children to finish the term when they start something. My five year old wanted to do gymnastics and suddenly didn't want any more. Well, too bad, he is in for ten weeks anyway. That being said, I wouldn't force an activity on him or his sisters, if they didn't express an interest in it at all. There are way too many things to try in life, and sports is really not important at all. Decades ago we didn't have that many options, but we still managed to try many things. If he isn't good at following a weekly class or whatever organised activity you could find, he could be very good at chasing snails in the backyard or building cubby houses out of scrap or inventing stories, and these skills will be much more useful to him. ;) What I mean is that you can't possibly get him to try everything which would worthwile, so how could you convince yourself/him that trying that one class is important? Expose him to different things, bring him to sport events, show him videos on youtube (that's how I got my son into capoeira ;)), and let him drop and try something different. You can't possibly ask a 5yo (or a 10yo for that matter) to enrol for a year, like I sometimes hear it happens in some families. I wouldn't do it, so how could I ask it from a child? But a bit of perseverance (depending on child's age and skills) can't hurt, as getting them responsible for their choice (it costs a lot, it requires organisation, etc etc).

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