I have a 9 year old son. He loves doing things he is good at but is not very open to start trying new things. For ex. he is doing Karate since he was 6 yr old and now he is intermediate level and good at it so he likes to do it. Recently we bought a ping pong table, he tried it initially but gave up very soon because he thought he is not good at it. I had to force him to try it a few times after that and now he loves it because he has learnt a bit of skills. Same thing happened with roller skates. After trying it initially, he thought it is too tricky for him so he didn't want to do it anymore. When i forced him to do it a few times, now he likes it because we practiced a lot and he has gotten good at it. I always tell him its all about practice, once you practice you get good at it and then you would enjoy doing it.

So my question here is how to help him encourage doing things he has never done before.

EDIT: We bought ping ping table because he wanted to. Roller skates were also his choice. The problem is when he thinks something might be interesting, he wants to try doing it. But as soon as he feels he is not good at it, he gives it up.

  • 1
    Did he himself show an interest in any of these things, or are they all things you made him try? “once you practice you get good at it and then you would enjoy doing it” seems like oversimplification, some things depend on talent, other things you never learn to enjoy, no matter if you’re good at it or not.
    – AsheraH
    Sep 3 '20 at 20:18

This is something we struggle with as well, at a similar age. What works best for us, though not perfectly, is rather than force him to do it, incent him to do it. Provide some reward for accomplishing some of the basics of it.

It is important, though, to understand that even in incenting him to do it, you're losing out on something critical: developing internal motivations. External motivations are fine and good, but ultimately it's more important to be able to internally motivate yourself - meaning, want to do something for the thing itself and not for external rewards.

Developing internal motivation is possible, but one of the most important factors is to give the child say in what they're doing. This leads to better outcomes overall:

It is worth it, though, to help students find intrinsic motivation, particularly when it comes to academics. Studies have found that when students have intrinsic motivation about learning, they tend to exert more effort, take on more challenging tasks and activities, and have a better understanding of the concepts that they are learning. When students are able to apply what they are learning to the real world, this tends to increase intrinsic motivation – they are able to see the application, and see the pay off. Allowing students to have a choice or say in their work, and in setting their goals can also help. When students are able to see that they are doing these learning strategies for themselves, and not for their teachers or peers, they tend to accept more ownership of their learning. Students want to have a say – allowing them to provide feedback and allowing personal interests to be relevant in learning can also help.

How do you develop internal motivation to do new things? For us, that is simply by providing lots of opportunities to be exposed to new things. We have a rule - try everything once; if you don't like it, we won't push (unless it's something mandatory, like school, of course!). Exposing the children to lots of activities means they can find the ones they like naturally.

Additionally, when they discover something new on their own, enable that. My seven year old for example discovered he wanted to play the violin after walking by a violin studio every day for a few months walking home from school. We enrolled him as soon as was possible, and he's having lots of fun. Practice is still hard, though - but that's okay; we try to set practice times and develop habits, and he's getting to where practice isn't a big deal - and of course when he successfully gets something, we praise him and encourage him.


The hard part is not only to encourage the child to try something new once, but to stick to it and give the new skill a really good try. It may require trying something a number of times.

  • Encourage the growth mindset in your child. Praise the process, such as effort, not the personality, such as the fact that the child is "smart" or is "good" at something. This goes for both the old skills already mastered by the child, and the new skills. For example, instead of saying: "You are good at karate", say "I like it that you put so much effort in mastering these moves". See more examples below, as well as in Dweck, 2017.

  • Lead by example. At this age, children still try to be like their parents. If you practice something yourself routinely, and the child observes it, they are more likely to try this skill.

  • Use peer pressure (sparingly). Use this only in moderation, and emphasize the positive aspects of peer pressure. Peer pressure should be a spice, not the main dish. For example, if the entire family is going swimming or biking, the child who does not want to try these skills may decide to overcome the inertia or fear, and try to learn the new skills. The desire to be in the in-group is strong in children.

How to praise:

Note that the examples below refer mostly to academic subjects, but they can be generalized to other areas, such as hobbies, sports, etc.

  • Praise what they do, not what they are. Praise should emphasize behaviors that are under the recipient’s control. Highlight hard work, good strategy use, determination, and persistence rather than praising abilities that are seen as fixed or innate.

  • Avoid comparing to others. Avoid praise that explicitly compares your students or employees to their peers. Instead, compare their current performance to their own past performance, in order to emphasize the value of improvement and keep the focus on getting better.

(Halvorson, 2012, Chapter 13, p. 162)

Does this mean we can’t praise our children enthusiastically when they do something great? Should we try to restrain our admiration for their successes? Not at all. It just means that we should keep away from a certain kind of praise—praise that judges their intelligence or talent. Or praise that implies that we’re proud of them for their intelligence or talent rather than for the work they put in.

We can appreciate them as much as we want for the growth-oriented process—what they accomplished through practice, study, persistence, and good strategies. And we can ask them about their work in a way that recognizes and shows interest in their efforts and choices.

“You really studied for your test and your improvement shows it. You read the material over several times, you outlined it, and you tested yourself on it. It really worked!”

“I like the way you tried all kinds of strategies on that math problem until you finally got it. You thought of a lot of different ways to do it and found the one that worked!”

“I like that you took on that challenging project for your science class. It will take a lot of work—doing the research, designing the apparatus, buying the parts, and building it. Boy, you’re going to learn a lot of great things.”

“I know school used to be easy for you and you used to feel like the smart kid all the time. But the truth is that you weren’t using your brain to the fullest. I’m really excited about how you’re stretching yourself now and working to learn hard things.”

“That homework was so long and involved. I really admire the way you concentrated and finished it.”

“That picture has so many beautiful colors. Tell me about them.”

“You put so much thought into this essay. It really makes me understand Shakespeare in a new way.”

“The passion you put into that piano piece gives me a real feeling of joy. How do you feel when you play it?”

What about a student who worked hard and didn’t do well?

“I liked the effort you put in, but let’s work together some more and figure out what it is you don’t understand.”

“We all have different learning curves. It may take more time for you to catch on to this and be comfortable with this material, but if you keep at it like this you will.”

“Everyone learns in a different way. Let’s keep trying to find the way that works for you.”

(Dweck, 2017, pp 250-251)


Halvorson HG. Succeed: How We Can Reach Our Goals. New York: Penguin Group; 2012: https://www.amazon.com/Succeed-How-Can-Reach-Goals/dp/0452297710

Growth mindset:

Dweck CS. Mindset: Changing the Way You Think to Fulfil Your Potential. London: Robinson; 2017: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0345472322
(Note: Amazon has only an older, 2007, edition)

Carol Dweck: The power of believing that you can improve. TED Talk: https://www.ted.com/talks/carol_dweck_the_power_of_believing_that_you_can_improve?

Carol Dweck: The Growth Mindset. Talks at Google: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-71zdXCMU6A

Mindset Kit: Do's and don'ts of praise: https://www.mindsetkit.org/topics/praise-process-not-person/dos-donts-of-praise

Dweck, C. (2015). Carol Dweck Revisits the 'Growth Mindset'. Education Week. 35(5): https://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2015/09/23/carol-dweck-revisits-the-growth-mindset.html

NOTE: Carol Dweck's research has been criticized with respect to replicability: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carol_Dweck#Criticism


How to help my son improve without being discouraging?: https://parenting.stackexchange.com/a/39008/33055

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.