It is natural to have an "image" of what we want our child to become in future. Our education is directly related to this imagination, but when and how should we allow a child to develop his/her own preferences and attractions?

i.e. all my childhood, at any free minute I've played basketball, but my parents thought I should learn music. Today I have not even one friend interested in classic music that I learnt for 7 years, but I have a lot of friends that like basketball and I even play in our job basketball team. I had a very bitter experience considering opportunities I missed because my parents absolutely ignored my inspiration.

So, I don't want to make a similar mistake with my child, but how do I avoid such a mistake is the question...

  • I've made some significant changes to the title; please review them, and make further edits if you think it needs them. If I've got it completely wrong, please feel free to roll the edits back to your original version.
    – user420
    Feb 24, 2014 at 13:31

3 Answers 3


I think parents have to know they have experience that helps guide them in knowing what is good for their kids and in helping the parents to decide upon particular values they have and want to instill in their child. However, they have to also know their child will have differences of opinion and allow room for that and the exploration every child needs to find their talents and passions. For me, it is helpful always to come back to the following couple of questions and try to answer them honestly:

  1. Am I pushing this for my child's health?
  2. Am I pushing this for my child's education and later career success in whatever career she may have?
  3. Am I pushing this because it fits my image of my child or because it will help her with her own goals?

If I'm pushing something because it fits with my image of her as a success, I'm probably in need of some reflective time and I probably need to let it go. If I'm pushing something for my child's own health (like, eat the green stuff instead of the neon colored corn product coated in sugar) then I am doing what I need to as a parent.

It is question number two that gets a little trickier and needs the most thought.

As an example: I doubt if studying classical music for seven years hurt you at all and though it may not fit with your current interests or the interests of your friends, it may have introduced you to some listening skills that give you a better understanding of how music works in general. It is completely possible your parents could have answered question number two with a resounding yes to this question (though they may also have needed to answer yes to number three - which would have meant letting you quit).

I think wanting to expose your child to a wide variety of healthy experiences is a good thing. Wanting to narrow them into one activity alone and over-focusing on one thing runs the risk of pushing a child in an area that is not their interest at the exclusion of things that are their interests. Including even, some that do not interest you that much.

I'm going to write about how I address this in my own household as an example and hope you find it helpful.

My Goals I want my child to be healthy, successful academically in a general way, find a passion, have athletic ability and activity to fall back on for health, be able to swim (for her safety on boats, docks and around pools), and have some sort of musical ability.

My Child's Goals My daughter just wants to have fun, do something that allows for her to "hang with friends," and "Keep the water off my face."

What I Ask of Her In order to attain my goals for her while respecting most of her wishes, she is currently (at age seven) required to take swimming lessons until she proves she can move around in the water independently enough to get from one side of the pool to the other and know basic open water safety rules, take a class that teachers her a musical skill, and participate in a sport.

By handling things this way, I feel I am attempting to give her skills that are important for her future well being both physically and in possible career fields (As an example, learning how to work collaboratively and as part of a team is a good general skill that a child might learn while playing a team sport. It is also well established that there is a relationship between a child's activity levels and success in school). At the same time, I am not specifying exactly the activity itself - she gets to choose that. I played the piano for eleven years as well as the flute for about five - if she chose drums, or the guitar, or the saxophone, or stuck with the vocal lessons, she would still be meeting my goals while exploring her interest).

For the sport, swimming would count, but she chooses to also do Tai Kwon Do and is considering trying Soccer. For music, she has taken voice classes in the past, but recently chose to switch to piano.

I have to be careful about It easy to get a plate that is too full, so I often have to ask my daughter to give something up in order to try the next new thing. It is a constant balancing act. It also sometimes comes into contradiction with teaching commitment, tenacity and perseverence. When she wants to quit because something is hard, I won't let her. When she wants to quit something because it just isn't a passion for her - then, I don't see the point in forcing her to continue (unless it is something required for school like writing, or something I am requiring because the skill is important, like swimming).

In the case of swimming, I have been absolutely up front about why she needs to be able to swim and given her an "out" or a goal to shoot for, that when reached, the choice becomes hers whether to stay or quit.

I think if you approach things with this kind of a philosophy (but pointed at the things that are most important to you) you also have to have a good relationship with your child where your child is comfortable discussing his/her hopes, dreams, desires and goals with you. That is also a very good thing.

A Great Resource to Help Families Communicate as well as think through things like this We have used the methods covered in "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Families" and "The Seven Habits of Happy Kids" both to identify what our goals are and to communicate about those goals while keep everything in balance. We refer back to these two books a lot and even have a family mission statement to help guide us in our decision making. It probably appears that it only loosely relates, but I highly recommend this book and the ideas in it as a way to give yourself a guide for checking in with yourself and your own goals for your child as well as how to teach your child about achieving goals and being disciplined about it, how to communicate effectively and just attain success in each thing he/she tries. It will relate much more closely than I can express here.

  • Thank you very much for the answer. I come back to it repeatedly... it is deep and extended
    – Ilan
    Feb 24, 2014 at 8:56

The image I like to use is gardening. Are you trying to help your apple tree grow into the healthiest, most fruitful apple tree it can be, or are you trying to make it into an orange tree, because that is what you would rather have?

One is healthy, the other is not.

Teaching your kid the value of hard work and consistent practice is a good thing. Forcing them to play the violin and practice 8 hours a day when they hate the violin and would rather be writing poetry or playing tennis is not a good thing.

  • Great example! I will use gardening as a reference!
    – Ilan
    Feb 24, 2014 at 17:18

I think the gardening metaphor is very interesting - but perhaps in a slightly different way.

When growing an apple tree, do you prune it or let it grow wildly? A pruned apple tree grows better fruit, after all; but it stays small and limited, particularly if you over-prune. Do you fertilize the tree with nutrients you know would help it grow in a certain way? I would think so.

Guiding your children is sort of like pruning and fertilizing. Do it too little, and you will harm your children's growth by failing to provide them the tools they need to grow and develop. Do it too much, and you have a very frustrated child.

Finding the right balance is difficult, but so is parenting. As a parent, you should ensure your child has some physical activities (sports/etc.), both to develop their physical bodies and to develop the concepts of 'teamwork' and 'leadership'.

Music is also good to learn, not only to actually perform the music, but to teach some logic and math concepts, and some think it helps develop the brain at the lower level in useful ways (such as in this article). While you may not play the violin anymore, it may have contributed to your cognitive processes in ways that are not easily seen.

Certainly the balance is not doing everything the child would prefer; nowadays that often would be playing video games for hours at a time, after all, and that's almost certainly harmful in many ways - socially, physically, and cognitively. Not that some video gaming is harmful, but playing with 'every free minute' is. Basketball may have been good as well, for some time; but playing 'every free minute' probably wouldn't have been as cognitively beneficial as learning music. Children are not as capable of understanding long term consequences, which is why they're called "children" and not "younger people". Parental guidance is absolutely necessary to some degree.

That said, childhood is both a time to develop the child and to have fun. There is a difference between learning musical skills and spending all free time on them; I would think a child should be able to learn the violin and play basketball as well. As long as there is a balance between 'development' and 'fun', it seems like you're in the right ballpark.

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